A suspected Nazi fugitive, a collaborator, veterans of the French Resistance, plus a host of funky monks in a nicely, at times wonderfully, written literary thriller remarkably devoid of stereotypes.
Agnes Aubret, former member of the Round Table—an underground group of young people who 50 years earlier spirited Jewish children out of Paris during the German occupation—is diagnosed with a rapidly progressing fatal disease. She has accepted her imminent death. But that peaceful trip to the grave is interrupted when secrets related to the events that defined her life start emerging in the press. A suspected fugitive Nazi war criminal thought to have been involved in the death camp deportations from Paris gets asylum at an English monastery. Neither the Vatican nor the British Home Office is appropriately outraged, and buried truths start popping up like coffins in a flooded cemetery as Father Anselm, a barrister-turned-monk, and young relatives of the apparent good guys and bad guys dig. Rather than amateur detectives out to settle an inherited grudge, they seem genuinely driven to know history. Their elders, having struggled with the pieces of the period in question, know there will be no history without judgment. The converging paths will meet in court. Character and place are sketched one casual but well-chosen line at a time. This attention to detail makes the rather glacial pace for a thriller acceptable; there’s plenty to absorb, even at that pace. First-novelist Brodrick, himself a former Augustinian friar, takes the high road, avoiding a minefield of potential clichés and stereotypes. Equally rotten with potential for black-and-white moralizing, the dominant moral tone is as gray as a London winter, and the reader is carried along as much by an interest in the people as in answers to the questions raised about levels of guilt. The storyline is intricate enough to make one squint at times, but it’s never contrived for the sake of cleverness or cheapened merely to lead the reader astray.
A slo-mo thriller. Literary, too.