In a remote English house during World War II, innocence and experience fuel the cat-and-mouse game played out between an imaginative child and a conflicted German soldier.
British actor–turned-bookseller Hewitt’s debut is a claustrophobic psychological thriller, as powerfully visualized as a screenplay, that swaps between the points of view and back stories of its two central characters. First to appear is 11-year-old Lydia, who has fled back home to Suffolk from her rough, bullying evacuation billet in Wales only to find the family house and its surrounding area strangely deserted. Then, in the middle of the night, a wounded stranger arrives: meticulous German special ops commando Heiden, who turns Lydia's home into a prison and half persuades her that the German invasion has already begun. Over the course of six sweltering summer days, the two plan, watch and test each other while becoming peculiarly interdependent. Between abrupt slices of the here and now, Hewitt sandwiches multiple flashbacks to both pre-1939 and wartime days. Lydia’s family background is revealed: There's an older brother who's gone to war, affectionate parents and an adopted refugee boy, Button, whom Lydia abandoned in Wales. Heiden’s more morally compromised memories include his musical career; his intense, ultimately tragic involvement with his girlfriend; and, in particular, a grueling military operation in Norway. Hewitt handles this complicated narrative with assurance, juggling the reader’s sympathies while adding crumbs of information, all the while pitting Heiden’s tarnished ideals against Lydia’s vulnerability. A sense of theatricality pervades the contemporary scenes—small cast, stifling domestic setting—but these are usefully crafted in the closing pages to deliver a jolting finale.
An unusual, intricate drama delivered with accomplishment.