I’ve enjoyed the chance to review several novels set in war time for this blog. Some of the books have been romance stories such as the Dressmaker of Paris, by Georgia Kaufmann and While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart. Most have been thrillers such as Liberation Square , by Gareth Rubin  The American Agent, by Jacqueline Winspear,  and Ben Pastor’s The Horseman’s Song. War provides a great background to any story with ready-made elements of danger and villains. This months second book review is a detective thriller set in WW2, and whilst I may have initially thought this would re-tread of familiar territory, I was pleasantly surprised.The book is of Blackout by Simon Scarrow and published by Headline ( on the 24th September .

Blackout is set in Berlin at the beginning of WW2, while Hitler is invading Poland and undertaking ‘peace’ negotiations with Britain and France. Every aspect of German life is run and ruled by the Nazi Party including the police force. Paranoia is intensified by the blackout which plunges the city into darkness every night. When a woman is murdered, Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke is under pressure to solve the case. Treated with suspicion by his superiors for failing to join the Nazi Party, Schenke walks a perilous line – for disloyalty is a death sentence. When a second victim is found and the investigation takes him closer to the sinister heart of the regime, Schenke realises the warring factions of the Reich are as dangerous as the killer.

What you quickly realise about this book, is that it has all the things you’d expect to find in a standard detective novel.  A smart, but isolated lead character, with a medical disability. Which makes him somewhat unique to the usual suspects in this genre , who are usually burdened with a mental health or addiction problem; there’s also a stalwart team of lower ranking staff; difficult superiors, and a love interest. Not forgetting the politics and a public who have biased views of certain other people . 

However, Scarrow’s knowledge of the workings of the Reich, the paranoia amongst the public, and the level of bullying, make this book stand out from its peers. He does also show the misery of the cold winter and deprivations faced  by the general public, many of whom had little appetite for another war. The persecution of the Jewish people of course come up and here we see the moral dilemma faced by Schenke.  While also seeing his frustration at wanting to follow the evidence but being thwarted by politics and those wielding the power.

This book is very technically correct but Scarrow has converted some of the German job titles in the Krippo  to their English counterpart to make it easier and more familiar for the reader. At heart this plot could have been set in any era including modern times but the war time background added layers of tension, intrigue and interest for the reader as well as leaving you feeling you had learned a little more of the social history of that period and place. It was interesting to hear of the hardships and fears faced by the German public, when we’re mainly aware of the Londoner’s in the Blitz etc. 

Schenke is a great new addition to a list of great cerebral detectives like Morse and Adam Dalgleish. while we are also introduced to a number of interesting chracters on his team, like the OCD Liebwitz, and the loyal Sergent Hauser.  I hope to see all develop further in future stories. And what of Katrin, Schenke’s girlfriend with her outspoken views? Will their romance go the course or cause more drama?

Simon Scarrow (Historiska Media)

This is english author Simon Scarrow’s ( thirty fourth book, the majority are historical fiction, and Most of have been top of the Sunday Times bestseller lists. On leaving school he followed his love of history by becoming a teacher, before taking up writing full time. His Roman era Eagles of the Empire series sold over 4 million copies of the books in the UK alone and his work has been translated into 24 languages. He lives in Norfolk.

Blackout is highly recommended by The Library Door. It should appeal to fans of detective fiction and historical thrillers. It also joins the many crime stories set at Christmas so will make an ideal Christmas present for the crime fan in your circle.

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviewers thought of the book, visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.



Liberation SquareThis week, the Crystal Palace and Welsh International goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy was accused by a Football Association hearing of “lamentable” ignorance towards Fascism and Adolf Hitler. This came after he used the excuse that he didn’t know what a Nazi salute was. This thirty-year-old highly paid premier league footballer’s appearance before the tribunal came after images of him emerged last year, at a Crystal Palace team dinner, making what was construed as a Nazi salute.

There have been enough movies and video games made, as well as books published in the past three decades,(Schindler’s List, The Boy in The Stripped Pyjamas, Inglorious Bastards and Call Of Duty) to leave only someone living in a cultural vacum or a hermitage, in this position. Following the decision of the Football association conduct hearing which cleared the player, he was sent informative material by The Auschwitz Memorial about Fascism.

Mr Hennessy, like quite a large number of people in the UK and across Europe, lives a good life owing to the sacrifices made by their grandparents and hopefully will never experience the constraints of Fascism or even Socialism, except in the realms of video games or as alternative history story lines in TV programmes and books. One of those books is this month’s second review, its Liberation Square by Gareth Rubin, published by Michael Joseph ( on the 18th April .

Its 1952, in a divided European country following the end of the second world war. But instead of hearing German accents as you travel around this place they are English … Yes, the D-Day landings failed and England is divided following a German invasion. The Democratic United Kingdom controlled by the Allies lies beyond a border stretching from Bristol to the Norfolk coast. Beneath that line, is the Soviet controlled Republic of Great Britain and inside it is London a city divided in two by a large wall.


The Berlin Wall (StMU History Media)

In the Soviet controlled sector of the city Jane Cawson, a school teacher, suspects her doctor husband Nick is having an affair with his first wife, Lorelei an actress and star of numerous propaganda films. Jane goes to Lorelei’s house in the hope of confronting the two of them, but finds the former Mrs Cawson murdered in her bath. Nick is arrested on suspicion of murder and held by the brutal Secret Police.

Jane then starts trying to prove her husband’s innocence to get him released, she starts probing Nicks relationship with his former wife, why are there coded messages hidden in a book in Lorelei’s house. All the while trying to protect her step-daughter, as well as not arousing suspicion from the authorities and nosy neighbours  who are all too eager to tow the party line and curry favours. With the help of Tibbot, a middle-aged East End bobby, Jane starts to piece together the identity of Lorelei’s murderer and hopefully prove Nick’s innocence. But is he innocent? Was Lorelei consorting with the Allies and what does it have to do with her recent miscarriage…?

As alternative history driven plot lines go, this in the current climate is not too far from the truth. With Brexit looming over the United Kingdom, the country is divided and becoming even more fractured by the day.

Rubin’s book is superbly crafted and drives the imagination from the first page to its conclusion, with its Sliding Doors – “What If” scenario. Along the way it asks the reader to imagine what might have happened if the course of history had changed.

The description of the remnants of war-torn London and the citizens trying get by under a brutal socialist regime are thought provoking and envelopes the reader into the story with every turn of the page. The historical nuances are superb, especially when you have Jane coming up against the likes of Burgess and Blunt and other members of the Cambridge five spy ring, who in this story have been exalted into running the country for their soviet bosses, as a reward for their cowardice and betrayal.

As for the characters, Jane is an excellent heroine, whose simplicity allows her to be believable and sets her apart from the all too often, highly skilled, super spy protagonist you expect to find in these types of books. She’s a school teacher, in well over her head, but allowed to follow the course of her investigations by the assistance of some other remarkably drawn characters, such as Tibbot the police officer working up to his retirement and the cagey and mysterious Charles, Nicks practice manager. Not forgetting the other host of run of the mill cockney characters and party hangers on and apparatchiks who help drive the story forward, as well as making it as wholly believable as it.

This is English Author Gareth Rubin’s ( first

Gareth Rubin

Gareth Rubin

novel, he’s written one previous book, an anthology of mistakes which have changed the course of British history, called The Great Cat Massacre A History of Britain in One Hundred Mistakes (2014). He’s journalist also a covering social affair, travel and the arts for various newspapers. In 2013 he directed a documentary about therapeutic art at The Royal Bethlehem Hospital in London, otherwise known as ‘Bedlam’.

Liberation Square asks the unthinkable; what if for example Alan Turing and his secret team at Bletchley hadn’t broken the Enigma machine or Churchill’s government hadn’t found enough little boats to Sail twelve miles across the channel to rescue the Allies from Dunkirk? It makes the reader realize how much of what happened during that time in history is down to coincidences and a stroke of luck, as well as how easily things could have gone awry. If things had happened as in this book, where would the likes of Wayne Hennessy be now? Would they have been even born?

So if you are looking for deeply engrossing debut thriller, to read over the Easter break, which will make you think twice about how good your life is now, then get down to your local book shop or download a copy.

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy


This book part of a Penguin Books blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought. Visit their blogs listed below and if you pick up a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d love the feedback.

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american agent proof coverIt is often said “That fools rush in where angels fear to tread..”(Alexander Pope) and considering the day that’s in it, it seems quite apt. But in the thriller  or crime genres, the hero or heroine needs to be a little fool hardy and to take risks, in order to solve the mystery or save the day. Foolhardiness also played a big part in real life times of crisis, such as during the two world wars with numerous accounts of heroic acts which in normal day to day life any self respecting angel would have balked at the notion.

The era of World War Two has spawned many novels, films and artistic works. Some are true stories, some are ‘faction’ and some are romanticized versions of events. The War provides a colourful backdrop to any story or romance or intrigue. It is still within living memory but our ‘memories’ are coloured by the righteousness of victory and a belief that those of us on the winning side all pulled together in a noble way. However, wartime is also a period when crime rates soar. No more so than in Jacqueline Winspear numerous novels. This months first book review is her latest novel,  The American Agent published by Allison & Busby ( on the 26th March

When a young american woman is found dead in her London flat. The brutal murder of the journalist is concealed by the British Authorities, initially keen to avoid a problem with the US but also because the victim Catherine Saxon has political connections. She has been working towards becoming a member of Murrow’s boys, a group of American reporters who are based in London and writing human interest stories with the aim of encouraging US sympathies towards supporting the Allies. Maisie Dobbs is asked to work in conjunction with an American Agent, Mark Scott to solve the crime. Dobbs and Scott have met before, he helped her escape the clutches of the third Reich in  Munich a couple of years previously. Can Maisie and her American friend get to the bottom of this murder while the Luftwaffe rain ordinance down on top of the British capital, threatening not just their investigation but the lives of those they love?

The American Agent is set during the time we now know as the Blitz, a period of intense bombing of British cities, which occurred during months from the autumn of 1940 to the beginning of summer in 1941. This was a truly evocative time in British people’s psyche. Those of us who were brought up in Britain, would have an ingrained understanding of what London during the Blitz was like, even though we have never personally experienced it. This was also a period when the British were working hard diplomatically to induce America to join the War. This propaganda offensive is also a feature of Winspear’s story, providing a side story to the murder mystery at its centre.

Jacqueline-Winspear #1

Jacqueline Winspear

This isn’t Winspear’s first novel featuring Maisie Dobbs, a psychologist and investigator but it is the first I have had the pleasure to read. A situation soon to be corrected! Maisie has had an interesting life to date. She was a maid in an Aristocratic house at thirteen, where she received the patronage and support of both her suffragette employer and of Maurice Blanche an investigator. Inspired, she gains entry to Girton College, only to have her studies cut short by the start of the Great War, during which she works as a nurse on the Front. She subsequently becomes an investigator in her own right and as we join her here, has experienced love and loss and is currently in the process of trying to adopt a refugee child. A widow to a titled gentleman, she doesn’t routinely use her title but one can imagine it makes some things possible for a woman in 1940 that wouldn’t be otherwise.

English born American author Jaqueline Winspear has to date written 15 books, fourteen have featured her heroine Maisie Dobbs. The others include Maisie Dobbs (2003), Birds Of A Feather (2004), An Incomplete Revenge (2008), The Mapping Of Love And Death (2010), A Dangerous Place (2015) and In This Grave Hour (2017). The only book not featuring the enigmatic Ms Dobbs is The Care And Management Of Lies (2014). Born in Kent, Winspear emigrated to the United States in 1990 . It is her grandfather’s experiences and injuries at the battle of the Somme which inspired her to write historical fiction based in war time.

In The American Agent, Maisie has a pool of suspects, a wealth of motives and a victim

with a mysterious past. She also has her doubts about Mark Scott’s involvement. Is the investigation a blind for something else? Is he involved? She is drawn to him romantically, but does he feel the same way? Maisie is trying to juggle her work as an investigator with working as ambulance crew during the blitzes and maintaining a relationship with her refugee child, who is in the countryside under the care of her parents.

This was very much Sunday night TV in terms of style. And I say that with utmost respect. It reminded me of  Foyle’s War, Call the Midwife or Heartbeat . One of those well-made, characterful dramas, that when you see it in the listings, you know you are in for an enjoyable time. A lover of Agatha Christie since my childhood, this was very much up my street.  The characters are well drawn, the setting is absolutely spot on and the denouement satisfying in its intricacy.  There was none of the gore and shock factors of modern crime thrillers. This read was very authentic. If someone told me it was written in the immediate post war period, I wouldn’t be surprised as it had a similar style to some vintage crime stories I’ve enjoyed. However Maisie is an inspiring very modern heroine. This should be an extra bonus in advertising this new novel and the other Maisie Dobbs novels on both sides of the Atlantic, in the current pro women in lead roles climate.

I for one, can’t wait to join the Maisie Dobbs revolution and catch up with the rest of the series! Neither should you, so hop on your bike to your local bookshop or download a copy and get behind a worthy new heroine.

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

This book is part of a Random Things Blog tour, to see what the other reviewers think go visit their blogs listed below. Then if you pick up a copy of The American Agent, comeback to this or the other blogs and tell us whether you agree or disagree.

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Uber Alles coverWhen H.G. Wells published his novella The Time Machine in 1836, time travel was still in the realms of fantasy. With the development of nuclear and quantum physics over the past one hundred and eighty years, the idea of travelling back and forward in time is perceived to be closer than ever. If, it hasn’t already been achieved in some small aspect, by a government or corporation.

In literature we’ve certainly seen authors grasp the theory and run with it, considering the likes of Michael Crichton’s 1999 time travel adventure Timeline and more recently Audrey Niffeneggers’s 2003 book, the Time Traveler’s Wife. As with most things, there are good and bad uses for scientific advances; take Crichton’s other big literary and film success Jurassic Park and it’s print sequel Jurassic World. This month’s book explores the idea of what would happen if a group of Hitler’s most trusted military leaders got their hands on time travel. Its America Uber Alles by Jack Fernley and is published by Unbound (  on the 3rd May 2018.

Its 1945 in Berlin and the Allies and Russians are closing in on the city. Hitler and his  generals are facing defeat. General Robert Ritter Von Griem and Flying Ace, Hanna Reitsch are summoned to Hitler’s bunker. There, they are ordered to proceed to a facility on the outskirts of the city where a group of highly skilled Stormtroopers, Historians and Engineers are waiting. Their mission is to travel back in time and change history by making one of the allies a German state, founded on the beliefs of the Third Reich. In December 1776, George Washington and his army are struggling to overcome mounting losses, low morale  and defeat  at the hands of the British in the American War of Independence, aided by a large force of German mercenaries, led by the mysterious Baron Von Steuben aka Ritter Von Griem and Hanna Reitsch. When one of Washington’s most trusted lieutenants Edward Hand, an Irish Doctor is kidnapped, he is asked by Von Steuben to introduce him to Washington and through their knowledge of American history Von Stuben and his troops start  to turn the tide of the war against the British. But as the German influence over the Americans becomes all encompassing, Edward Hand witnesses first hand their barbarity and has grave doubts about the Germans. Can he convince the fledgling congress and his own leaders and friends of the danger they are in? Or will Von Stueben and Reitsch and their ever growing support achieve their sole objective of changing the future?

When I first heard the title of this book, I thought it was about Uber and modern America. What a surprise I got when I read the blurb and it dawned on me what a coincidence its publication was, considering the  social and political change sweeping America at this time under Trump.

Wayne Garvie 2

Jack Fernley (AKA Wayne Garvie)


What Fernley gives us in this book is a historical conspiracy thriller that will have readers chomping at the bit from the first page to find the answer to the huge “Will they won’t they” conundrum at the heart of this book. The main thing we take from reading  this book, is the vast amount historical research that Fernley has put into this work. When you add his edgy and engrossing story telling, you realize how on the mark he is. As a result the reader is drawn into a parallel world where modern ideals and warfare clash with old world thinking and technologies.

I did like this book and found it a real page turner, but there are a couple things that are a big let down. For one there is no apparent protagonist in the book, it’s only midway through it that I started to get a feeling I should be rooting for Edward Hand, but he disappears for a good bit of the book and really only comes to the fore at the end. So in a sense, its like watching a big Premiership football match  with a lot of well constructed characters up against each other.

The second and biggest problem lies in the fact that there’s no ending. From page one you are on a vehicle which moves at speed to one of two conclusions, either the Germans succeed or Edward Hand and the few friends he has left, thwart their mission. But after three hundred and forty nine pages the whole thing falls off a cliff and stops dead. There is no outcome and the reader is left wondering what happens next.

The last chapter sees George Washington, Edward Hand and Thomas Jefferson meeting a groupH.G.Wells Time Machine Cvr of Native Americans to try raise a new American army, but nothing is mentioned of whether they succeed or if Von Stueben and the Nazi’s do. I can only assume Fernely is planning a second book, with a conclusion where a new America under German rule is formed and the outcome of World War Two is altered or maybe he’ll introduce another group of time travelers from the future lead by the allies. These I would look forward to, but if there is no such thing then I’m very disappointed.

This is English Author Jack Fernley’s (@thejackfernely) second historical thriller, his first was, The Babylon Revelation published in 2013. Jack Fernley is actually the pen name of Wayne Garvie a leading British television executive whose worked on such programes as Strictly Come Dancing, Top Gear and The Crown.

So, if you are looking for a great read with the plotting and pace of any of Robert Harris or Bernard Cornwell’s books then jump in your Delorean and drive to your local bookshop or download a copy, but be warned the ending is a big let down and needs the reader to decide the outcome.



gustav-sonata-cvrOn the day that I finished reading this month’s second book, back at the start of February, it’s ironic  that Rolf Harris was cleared of three further historical sex abuse charges. One of his greatest hits was a firm favorite at Christmas and  I’ve  found myself humming regularly, especially while reading this book.  Since his conviction it and all his other work, both artistically and musically has been scrubbed from playlists and removed from public view, which is a shame.

I’m referring of course to Two Little Boys. A song which tells the story of two friends who grow up then get separated in battle only to have one ride out of the smoke and rescue his mate with the chorus line “Did you think I would leave you dying, when there’s room on my horse for two….” and this is the main theme of this book, The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain published by Vintage publishing  in January this year.

Gustav Perle grows up in the sheltered existence of neutral Switzerland just after the second world war. Raised by his widowed mother Emilie, they live a hand to mouth existence as she works two jobs, at the Cheese factory and cleaning the local church early on Saturdays, doing her level best to try and keep their heads above water and provide some sort of respectable normality to his childhood, although her own depression and borderline alcoholism is a hindrance. One day Gustav’s solitary existence is shattered when a new boy Anton Zweibel (which translates as onion) arrives at his school. They hit it off instantly and from there on a lifelong friendship begins which goes deeper than just friends and the boys discover different things about each other’s past.

The book deals with a lot of topics which are current even today, such as immigration, the Humanitarian Crisis, as well as what is right or wrong and it asks the question, what would we do if in a certain situation. Through Gustav’s journey of discovery, we uncover the truth about what happened to his father during the war and why his mother will not talk about it. What unfolds via a revelation is his old man’s infidelity, his work related stress, but also the beautiful and passionate courtship of his parents, before Gustav’s birth and early life.


The main part of the book centres on the relationship between the two boys . There is a  ‘will they won’t they ‘unrequited gay scenario. While also showing how two friends lives can change over time due to their different aims or more importantly upbringing.

Gustav’s life is pure struggle to survive until he meets Anton. Anton is the son of a Jewish banker who has everything he needs and is being groomed to be a concert pianist, only for his nerves to get in the way. What comes across in the book is that Gustav is a virtual doormat to all of humanity and is all but used by everyone he meets, even Anton, who comes across as a spineless self-centred human being is used to having things done for him and who can’t really deal with any harsh challenges (bit like the youth of today in the blogger’s opinion). Thus he needs Gustav to be his emotional crutch, who must break various bits of bad news to Anton’s parents’, employers etc, etc… Gustav it appears, is the son the Zweibel’s never had and wished they did instead of Anton. Through his friendship he is exposed to the good things in life, things his poor washed up mother can’t provide. Expensive holidays in Geneva and Davos and skating at the local ice rink.

This English Author Rose Tremain’s thirteenth novel, the others include The Sadler’s Birthday(1976), The Cupboard(1981), Restoration(1989), which was shortlisted for The Booker and made into a film with a stellar cast, including Robert Downey Jnr., Meg Ryan, Hugh Grant, Sam Neil and David Thewlis. The Road Home(2008) was the Whitbread Novel of the year and Trespass(2010) was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick.  She has written five collections of short stories and a children’s book called Journey To The Volcano(1985). Rose was made a CBE in 2007 and currently lives in Norfolk with her partner the biographer Richard Holmes.


Rose Tremain

This isn’t the first time she has used immigration and sexual discovery as a subject for her books, Her 1992 book Sacred Country tells the story a young English girl who is gender challenged. While The Road Home, follows the exploits of a young Eastern European man as he leaves his homeland to start a new life in London.

The general reaction to this book at the book group, including myself was that the book was a nice read. But could have been a bit longer, and was a victim of over editing, which is usually lacking in other similar novels. Thus, the story in the Gustav Sonata is not given more time to develop, so what you get is short jumpy bits which feels a bit like a hashed-up time travelling piece.

The ending also feels a bit twee and just thrown in to finish a book the author had lost interest in or was under pressure to finish. The topics covered in the book allowed for a frank and in-depth discussion on current problems facing Europe and the world, what with immigration through Europe and Trump’s botched travel ban. So, take yourself off and download or pick up a copy of this book.



We Die Alone CvrImagine you’re living on the outskirts of a small rural village or in an isolated farmstead – in Nazi occupied Norway, north of the Artic circle.  On a bitterly cold, dark, mid-winter evening there’s a knock on your door. You open it to find a wounded and disheveled stranger, close to exhaustion. He’s on the run from the Nazis. He needs you to feed and shelter him. You know that if you do, you will be tortured and killed if found out. Not only you, also your children – who are sleeping upstairs – could also be killed to make an example of “collaborators” or transported to a ‘labour’ camp.

What would you do?

This is the recurring real-life dilemma faced by housewives, fishermen and villagers when Jan Baalsrud lands on their doorstep in this month’s book, it’s We Die Alone by David Howarth.

Jan Baalsrud is not a fictional character. He was a Norwegian commando sent from England as part of an under-cover sabotage mission to organize and supply the Norwegian resistance during World War II.   The mission goes horribly wrong when, having sailed from Scotland to a remote bay north of Tromso, the leader of the mission reveals their identity to a local store owner who they have been told is a trusted contact. Too late they realize that their contact has died a year earlier and the new owner of the store, who has the same name, is terrified.  The message on a poster in his own shop: “Contact with the enemy is punished by death” is no idle threat. He calls a friend in the Department of Justice. Next morning a German gunboat sails into the bay.

The ensuing battle results in 11 of the 12-man commando unit being killed or captured (and subsequently executed).  Only Jan – wounded and minus a boot – escapes into the adjoining snow-covered hills.

So begins Jan’s epic 68-day escape journey across artic Norway to eventual safety in neutral Sweden.  Actually, epic doesn’t even begin to describe it. Add heroic, superhuman and phenomenal and we get a little closer – but it is difficult to find the superlatives to truly do justice to what Jan Baalstrud endured over these 68-days.

Jan's Jrny

The Route of Jan’s Epic Journey


Evading capture was only one of his many challenges. The harsh conditions of the Artic mountains presented an even more formidable threat.  Caught in an avalanche, he survives a 300ft fall that leaves him concussed, hallucinating and snow-blind.  He suffers severe frost-bite and starvation. Unable to walk because of a gangrenous leg, he endures days on a mountain lying in a hole in the ice under a boulder – his “snow grave”.  His physical perseverance is phenomenal, but even more impressive is his mental resolve and determination – superhuman is what comes to mind.  What other word adequately describes the level of resolve required to methodically amputate his own toes to rid himself of gangerene while lying, wet and cold, under a rock? Or to doggedly maintain a daily routine of basic survival tasks when convinced that he has been abandoned?

Jan’s courage and bravery are without any doubt exceptional and deserving of fulsome admiration, even adulation. But it is those who help him – the housewives, fishermen and

Jan Baalsrud

Jan Baalsrud

villagers mentioned above, the ordinary Norwegians on whose doorstep Jan appears – who truly deserve the accolade of ‘heroic’.  With the sole exception of the aforementioned shop owner, every single person who Jan seeks help from gives it willingly. They hide him, provide him with food from their meagre war rations, haul him in a stretcher up a mountain, drag him in a sled across a treacherous plateau – all the while putting themselves in mortal danger of being caught and executed and endangering their families. And when Jan reaches safety in Sweden, they remain with this danger still hanging over them like a sword of Damacles. For two more years they continue to live with the constant threat that an inadvertent word or an accidental comment might alert the Germans to their ‘treason’. Jan’s courage and bravery was motivated by a powerful desire to survive. The bravery of the men and women who ensured his survival was selfless. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Without doubt they are the real heroes of this amazing story.


And the most amazing thing? It’s NOT fiction – it all actually happened. These were real people who acted with astonishing bravery and selflessness to help a stranger who could not have survived without their help.  In this instance, truth is not only stranger than fiction but also much, much more wonderful.

David Howarth

David Howarth

The author, David Howarth, had a direct connection with the story. He was one of the commanding officers of the secret naval base in the Shetland Islands from which the boat that brought Jan and his ill-fated comrades to Norway embarked. After the war he re-traced Jan’s escape route with him and interviewed the people who helped him. This first-hand knowledge is evident throughout – and adds to the readers sense of witnessing inspiring real-life events.


Written in 1955, this was the third of 18 books on military history written by the English author, the others included Sledge Patrol (1951), Shetland Bus (1951), Thieves Hole (1954), Dawn of D-Day (1959), Sovereign of The Seas (1974), The Dreadnoughts (1979) and Nelson: The Immortal Memory (1988). We Die Alone was made into a movie “Ni Liv” (Nine Lives) in 1957 and inspired a 5-part Norweigan TV series in 2012.

The book retains a freshness and immediacy largely due to Howarth’s fast-paced, journalistic writing style. There are a few ‘time-warp’ issues that reflect attitudes that would not be tolerated today but were almost universally accepted at the time – e.g. some comments on the Lapps generate a ‘gulp’ in today’s reader – but these do not detract from the inspiring humanity of the story.

Read this book. It’ll restore your faith in human nature. And as we face into months of ear-bashing by Donald Trump’s hate-filled invective we need to be reminded that we have the capacity for empathetic heroism.



The Paris Archtct CvrIt may be one of most romantic cities in the world, but with what has been visited upon the French capital in the past twelve months, you’d think I’d be turned off going there. On the contrary, this makes me more determined than ever to fan the flames of love in its various arrondissements, walking hand in hand along the banks of the Seine or sittiing outside it’s cafe’s and boulangeries drinking coffee and nibbling fresh flaky croissants while admiring the architecture. Thus bringing us on to this month’s book – it’s The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure.

As Lucien Bernard the Architect of the title, rounds a corner of a street in Paris he almost bumps into a man running in the opposite direction. In the split second that it takes for the man to pass, Lucien notices that he is wearing the same cologne as himself. He hears a gun shot, turning he sees the man is lying dead on the pavement behind him, blood pouring from his head. He is a Jew.

This opening scene from “The Paris Architect” reflects the tone of the book.  Set in 1940’s Nazi-occupied Paris, the book explores the intersection of normal, everyday life with the terror of living-on-the-edge, where being in the wrong place at the wrong time could mean death, torture or deportation to a prison camp.

The book’s central character, Lucien, is a handsome young architect battling with the deprivations of occupied Paris – little work, scarcity of food, rationing. Self-centered and egotistical, as the story begins Lucien is frustrated that the war has deprived him of the opportunity to display his modernist architectural talents and, in the process, becoming rich and renowned, achieving the social status and acclaim that he, by his own lights, truly deserves.

On the morning of the shooting, Lucien is heading for a fateful meeting with a rich industrialist, Auguste Manet. He is expecting a commission to design an armaments factory for the German military. Manet’s proposition is, however, entirely different. He wants Lucien to incorporate a secret hiding place in an apartment that is to be used to accommodate a Jewish friend until he can be moved to safety.  Lucien’s horror at being asked to do such a dangerous task is only slightly assuaged by the very large sum of money that Manet offers. Even the indication that this would lead to the expected factory commission does little to persuade Lucien to take on such a suicidal job. The hook that reels him in is the architectural challenge. He envisages an elegant solution, an ingenious hiding place that no Gestapo search party would find…

So begins Lucien’s transformation. As his fascination for devising architectural solutions

Priest hide

Inspiration – A Priest Hole

draws him into a life-threatening web of secrecy and intrigue, Lucien’s arrogant self-confidence is challenged by tragedy and by exposure to the self-sacrifice and bravery of others. A very unlikely hero emerges.


Lucien is soon leading a double life – surreptitiously visiting apartments to design hiding places while also socialising with German officers to progress his factory proposals. As his life becomes more and more dangerously complicated – he becomes friends with a Wehrmacht officer, the Paris Resistance targets him as a collaborator, his mistress takes a Gestapo lover, he takes in an orphaned Jewish boy  – the tension and terror heightens.

And it isn’t only Lucien’s life that generates nail-biting tension. Balfoure’s description of the coldly casual brutality of Nazi killing of civilians is truly shocking, bringing home what it must be like to live under a reign of terror.

It also raises uncomfortable questions for the reader. What would we do if we were faced with a similar situation? Would we risk our life and those of our family to protect others from atrocity? Or would we adopt Lucien’s wife approach that “in wartime, Christian brotherhood takes a back seat to saving one’s own skin.”

Balfoure’s description of the sadism of the Gestapo and the grotesque consequences for those found helping Jews – and even those who are only living in the same apartment block – brings into sharp focus why it was that ordinary people in Germany and occupied Europe looked the other way and ‘allowed’ unconscionable atrocities to be carried out all around them. I, unfortunately, have to admit that I would do the same.


Charles Belfoure

An architect by profession, this is Balfoure’s first book of two works of fiction, published in 2013, the other is House of Thieves published last year ( The idea for Lucien’s ‘hook’ is based on the actual incorporation of secret hiding places for persecuted priests in houses of Catholic sympathizers during the reign of Elizabeth 1st.    Balfoure’s own love of architectural problem-solving is evident throughout. Although spatially challenged, even I found his descriptions of the design of hiding places compellingly fascinating, making Lucien’s risk taking and subsequent transformation wholly believable.

Written with a true story-teller’s flair, the narrative unfolds at a fast, page-turning pace – until close to the end, which is disappointingly clichéd (written with a film deal in mind?).  Despite this one reservation, it’s a really good thought-provoking read.


We’d like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers and followers on the various social media a very happy New Year. Thanks for stopping by and for spreading the word. We hope you enjoy the book reviews that we’ve have left  beyond The Library Door  and will continue to leave over 2016. Adrian