Although the premises and some of the banter are enjoyable, McMillan is less successful with character and plot development,...

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A LESSON IN LOVE AND MURDER

Two adventurous female detectives travel from Toronto to Chicago in the 1910s to investigate a Mountie who may have gone rogue.

Jemima DeLuca’s only surprise when she gets fired from her job in Spenser’s Department Store mailroom is that it took them so long to do it. She knows that now that she’s a married woman she’ll be expected to tend to her husband’s every need, though Ray seems more attentive to his sister’s well-being than Jem’s. It’s no problem, because Jem has her own interests, which she hopes will result in a financial payout one day: the ladies detective agency she runs with her friend Merinda Herringford. Merinda, who comes from money, is motivated less by cash flow than curiosity, even nosiness, about the world and her desire to wear pants, as her disguises often permit. Jem and Merinda’s new client, Benefield Citrone, a Mountie almost-flirtatious Merinda dubs Benny, has been searching for his cousin and fellow Mountie, Jonathan. Benny fears Jonathan may have something to do with the explosions in Toronto that police are passing off as accidents. The two detectives are helped in their investigation by their police connection, Jasper Forth, who admires Merinda’s sleuthing skills almost as much as he admires everything else about her. When signs suggest that Jonathan may be heading to Chicago, the whole gang pursues him, though Ray’s already there on his own. He left days before to check on his sister and her son, who live there and appear to be Ray's biggest concern. It’s in Chicago that Jem realizes she may never have Ray’s attention, Benny realizes that Jonathan may have turned to a life of crime, and Merinda realizes she’s not as indifferent to Benny as she might like.

Although the premises and some of the banter are enjoyable, McMillan is less successful with character and plot development, which will have to wait for later entries in the series (The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder, 2016).

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-736-96642-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Harvest House

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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