A masterful exercise in historical hypothesis.




A historical novel that imagines an alternative ending to World War II.

In 1936, Adolf Hitler boldly ordered the invasion of Western Germany—an undertaking so risky that even his own army’s general staff strongly opposed it. At the time, the German military was in a diminished state and vulnerable to attack by superior forces, but the British and French were caught unaware when the invasion order was given. Many historians have wondered whether much of the bloodshed of World War II could have been avoided if the Allied powers had swiftly responded to this act of aggression. Wurtenbaugh (Newton in the New Age, 2012, etc.) explores precisely this possibility in the novel, in which a young German officer, Lt. Karl von Haydenreich, contacts Dwight D. Eisenhower, then a major in the U.S. Army and a long-standing friend of the family, with stolen documents containing classified military information. The author not only tells the story of the war, but also of von Haydenreich’s life, entirely through excerpted books, journals, correspondence, and periodicals, all fictional—a quilt of information that, stitched together, forms a fully coherent, if unsettled, narrative. Von Haydenreich’s mother died when he was young, and he was raised by a stepmother whose relationship with his father was scandalous. His family were Bavarian nobility and rabid anti-Semites, and as a young man, Von Haydenreich was impressed by Hitler. His father disabused him of his infatuation, and he went on to become a serious student of music, but he eventually quit his studies and joined the Reichswehr. Wurtenbaugh’s account is stunningly original, and he plausibly conjures a remarkably full vision of alternative history. Haydenreich is a beautifully drawn character, rich and complex, and the author allows readers considerable latitude in interpreting his motives. Some of the excerpts presented depict Haydenreich as a hero, some as a traitor, and the author wisely shows great restraint by refusing to offer any narrative commentary that definitively nudges readers toward one option or the other. Wurtenbaugh not only conjures a new historical universe, but also a contentious world of scholarship about it, and he invites readers to join in the dispute. His effort is reminiscent of Philip Roth’s 2004 novel The Plot Against America, as both are wildly imaginative and historically grounded. Most importantly, this book humanizes a global tragedy, making its main character’s inner conflict a microcosm of a nation’s intramural disputes. The entire Von Haydenreich family is memorably, fascinatingly dysfunctional, and the author slowly unfurls his protagonist’s plight in a way that seems fragilely contingent and inexorably fated. One minor criticism is that it would have been better if the author didn’t begin the novel with a prefatory note in his own name, and a concluding historical one. The power of the novel is in the immersive experience it offers, and these two invitations to stand outside the fictional cosmos feel unnecessary and diminishing. Nevertheless, this is an impressive work, as bold as it is meticulous.

A masterful exercise in historical hypothesis.

Pub Date: June 12, 2017


Page Count: 604

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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