Tag Archives: thrillers

Book review: A Hero in France

Alan FurstFrance 1941, British bombers fly every night to Germany, many aircraft don’t make it back home. The aircrew parachuting into Occupied France must somehow find their way home in order to fight again. A Hero in France by Alan Furst is a story of that individual battle within the wider war, seen from different sides by two ordinary men. This is the beginning of the French Resistance.

The man known as Mathieu – we don’t know his real name or identity until the very end of the book, this is the name by which he is known to his Resistance cell – escorts airmen along the north-south escape lines into Vichy France and onwards to Spain. Old clothes are sourced at jumble sales, innocent-looking shops serve as message drops, and a schoolgirl delivers messages by bicycle. In the beginning it was successful and relatively simple, but now the German command in Paris realizes there is a big problem. Word is getting around about the Resistance and people want to join, but how does Mathieu know who is genuine and who is a German spy?

In Hamburg, Otto Broehm, senior inspector of the police department, is transferred to the Kommandantur in Paris to stop the flow of downed airmen being returned to the UK by French people, working together in coordinated groups.

This is a huge subject and a story much-told, but by focussing on a few personalities and what happens to them, Alan Furst writes an engaging story which I read over a weekend. It is a low-key study of personalities, rather than a page-turning thriller.

Read more about Alan Furst’s books at his website.
Read my review of Alan Furst’s Midnight in Europe.

If you like ‘A Hero in France’, try these other WW2 novels which also are not thrillers:-
‘Inflicted’ by Ria Frances
‘After the Bombing’ by Clare Morrall
‘The Paying Guests’ by Sarah Waters

‘A Hero in France’ by Alan Furst [UK: Weidenfeld & Nicolson] Buy here

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Book review: The Ends of the Earth

Robert GoddardDon’t do what I did, and read the first two books in this series by Robert Goddard and then leave 12 months before reading the third. Ideally this trilogy should be read back to back, in full sun when sitting on a sunlounger. The story runs along at a cracking pace, with dense plotting, loads of characters, politics, spies and locations from Europe to Japan. The pace of this, the third book, is constant, hardly time to draw a breath.

Questions that I had forgotten about from the first book are revisited, challenged and solved. Japan is the scene for the climax of this tale of James Maxted, ‘Max’, and his hunt for the truth about his father’s death. But this is so much more than a single case of murder, on it hangs the future of post-Great War Europe and the twentieth-century relationship of Japan and America. At times things happen which seem a little convenient, a person turns out to have a skill or history of which we knew nothing before, but I forgave Goddard for this. He is a prime storyteller. It is clear he knows his settings – Paris, Marseilles, Switzerland, Japan – and this adds to the verisimilitude.

In this rollicking spy story, Goddard examines the nature of courage. Max finds himself drawing on the type of bravery he needed to survive in the Royal Flying Corps. “He was not surprised by how calm he felt, how undismayed by what lay before him. He had discovered his aptitude for taking risks early in the war. ‘You should be more careful, sir’, Sam had said to him more than once. And Max had always given the same reply. ‘Being careful is what gets a chap killed.’ Eventually, he had come to believe that. And it was a belief that had served him well. So far.”

Read my reviews of the first two books in ‘The Wide World’ trilogy here:-
The Ways of the World
The Corners of the Globe

If you like ‘The Ends of the Earth’, try:-
‘Midnight in Europe’ by Alan Furst
‘Stay Where You Are and Then Leave’ by John Boyne
‘The Bone Church’ by Victoria Dougherty

‘The Ends of the Earth’ by Robert Goddard, The Wide World #3 [UK: Bantam Press] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
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#BookReview ‘The Bear’ by @clairecameron #mystery #suspense

Claire Cameron knows the forest where The Bear is set, and it shows. I could not put this book down. From page one I was hooked. Claire CameronIt is important to say that although the point-of-view of The Bear is a five-year old girl, Anna, the voice is not like Emma Donoghue’s Jack in Room. The two books are completely different in tone, the children are very different. The tension in The Bear comes from the dual vision of the story – Anna’s perspective, seeing but not understanding; and the reader’s imagination filling in the reality of the scene as Anna describes it, worrying about the consequences.
Anna is almost six, her brother Stick is almost three. Anna is pre-occupied with trying to behave as her mother and father have schooled her; despite the horror of the situation, she worries about doing what her mother tells her to do, being polite, remembering that Stick is too young to understand. The threat is always there: when the two children are trapped in Coleman, the family’s metal anti-bear food store, and Anna is wishing her mother would let her have a Barbie, I was worrying about what was outside Coleman.
It is a harrowing tale, and the writing made me catch my breath at times. Anna tries to be the grown-up sister, a babysitter for Stick, to have fun, to make him laugh, to distract him from the horror. “And Stick laughs and laughs like when it’s really funny and he starts to walk around and his head rolls because it is so funny and his eyes are tearing but not tears like he is sad. They look like the same tears but they aren’t when you laugh and they come from a different place, like they drip out from your throat and through your eyes. Tears when you are sad drip up from your heart.”
I learned to see the world through Anna’s eyes. The dirty water they drink from a pool is ‘chocolate milk’. The story is interlaced with Anna’s memories of ‘being four’, of trying to do as her mother has taught her. “Manners!”
She waits for her parents to come, as they always have. “Mummy said to me, ‘Daddy and I will be there.’ I am a good girl and our family is four. I don’t want to wait here because I don’t like it but I am supposed to watch Stick when Mummy is not here. I am not old enough to be a babysitter because that is a girl who has long hair and her jeans go loose around her shoe and nail polish that is pink like a pink popsicle except dark. I want nail polish but Mummy says no and I can’t babysit yet so I just have to watch Stick. I don’t know how long until Mummy and Daddy come.” But the reader knows they can’t come.
I read this in one sitting on holiday.

If you like this, try:-
‘Barkskins’ by Annie Proulx
A Sudden Light’ by Garth Stein
At the Edge of the Orchard’ by Tracy Chevalier

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE BEAR by @clairecameron #bookreview via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-P5