Set in the modern-day Channel Islands and Dresden, Germany, Davy’s neonoir mystery follows a transgendered (female to male) man investigating the disappearance of a famous actress’ grandmother during World War II.
Arty Shaw, a genealogist working for a television show called Roots that uncovers the family histories of celebrities, is no stranger to delving through family trees and old records to piece together the truth in a person’s past. He gets more than he bargained for, however, when tasked with helping Helen Valentine, a luminary of the London stage, discover why her grandmother seemed to abandon her mother in the 1940s. For some reason, though, a few dangerous people don’t want him to reveal the truth to the world. Meanwhile, Helen becomes cagey when Arty repeatedly confronts her with questions about why it’s all of a sudden so important for her to learn whether her grandmother had run away or been sent to a concentration camp by Nazis. Davy, in his debut, spins an engrossing mystery that shines a light on a lesser-known aspect of World War II history. The straightforward story allows the reader to follow Arty’s process every step of the way—reminiscent of Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time (2011)—which grants the story authenticity and humanity. Arty’s examination of Helen’s family history comes to parallel his coping with his own past while dovetailing elegantly with the novel’s Holocaust themes of persecution. Davy’s personal experience with gender reassignment comes through in the dignity and grace with which he matter-of-factly depicts his protagonist’s own experiences of gender reassignment. It’s rare to find a novel that blends genres so well, with such a fully fleshed-out, distinctive protagonist at the center.
An extremely satisfying read, as thrilling as it is humane.