A portrait sensitively and well-limned; hopefully we will have more from Nickels.

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A COMPETENT WITNESS

GEORGIANA YOKE AND THE TRIAL OF H.H. HOLMES

Not the first and probably not the last probing into the true case of Dr. Henry Howard Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett in 1861), America's first serial killer, but a masterful study of his innocent wife, Georgiana, and of a time long past.

Debut novelist Nickels has wisely chosen to focus not on Holmes himself but on his third wife, Georgiana Yoke. Georgiana (1869-1945) is a mixture of the adventurous and enlightened and the naïve; she leaves her teaching job in Indiana to stay with her uncle in Chicago, the plan being to see this wonderful coming world’s fair and to see what the next stage in her life will be. It’s not long before she is wooed and won by Dr. Holmes. Holmes, whom Erik Larson wrote about in Devil in the White City (2003), is the classic psychopath, utterly charming and able to explain away…well, anything which might strike one as shady. Georgiana is hopelessly smitten and fiercely loyal. Holmes, a con man and bigamist, very likely had a genius IQ. He was always on the go, needed very little sleep, and always had his hand in one scheme or another. He protested his love for Georgiana and treated her royally. And he always had plausible explanations for his dodgy doings, his frequent absences. Finally, things began to catch up with him. He was arrested in Boston, and the more the police dug, the more appalling things they unearthed. Holmes was convicted of four murders and went to the gallows—with unnerving aplomb—at the age of 34. Nickels writes very well and researches thoroughly. We get a feel for the life of a shopgirl in a big Chicago department store and of a girl in small-town Indiana—and the different but equally stifling mores of each place. The portrait of Georgiana is wonderfully fleshed out. She is naïve but does not realize how much so. Her loyalty to Holmes is both touching and painful for the reader. She is shunned by the townsfolk and badgered by the press. This comes to a head when she finally has to face the truth and confront the monster in court.

A portrait sensitively and well-limned; hopefully we will have more from Nickels.

Pub Date: July 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4973-8192-6

Page Count: 218

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

CODE NAME HÉLÈNE

A historical novel explores the intersection of love and war in the life of Australian-born World War II heroine Nancy Grace Augusta Wake.

Lawhon’s (I Was Anastasia, 2018, etc.) carefully researched, lively historical novels tend to be founded on a strategic chronological gambit, whether it’s the suspenseful countdown to the landing of the Hindenberg or the tale of a Romanov princess told backward and forward at once. In her fourth novel, she splits the story of the amazing Nancy Wake, woman of many aliases, into two interwoven strands, both told in first-person present. One begins on Feb. 29th, 1944, when Wake, code-named Hélène by the British Special Operations Executive, parachutes into Vichy-controlled France to aid the troops of the Resistance, working with comrades “Hubert” and “Denden”—two of many vividly drawn supporting characters. “I wake just before dawn with a full bladder and the uncomfortable realization that I am surrounded on all sides by two hundred sex-starved Frenchmen,” she says. The second strand starts eight years earlier in Paris, where Wake is launching a career as a freelance journalist, covering early stories of the Nazi rise and learning to drink with the hardcore journos, her purse-pooch Picon in her lap. Though she claims the dog “will be the great love of [her] life,” she is about to meet the hunky Marseille-based industrialist Henri Fiocca, whose dashing courtship involves French 75 cocktails, unexpected appearances, and a drawn-out seduction. As always when going into battle, even the ones with guns and grenades, Nancy says “I wear my favorite armor…red lipstick.” Both strands offer plenty of fireworks and heroism as they converge to explain all. The author begs forgiveness in an informative afterword for all the drinking and swearing. Hey! No apologies necessary!

A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54468-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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