This booked grabbed me right from the start as it opens up with our present-day protagonist, Sophie Hamilton, involved in a project at the Imperial War Museum which I’ve recently visited! If you enjoy museums and history, then this is the type of place that you’ll enjoy immersing yourself in for hours. The number of artefacts and data that is stored is, is absolutely astounding and it’s truly fascinating stuff!
So … back to the book! Sophie isn’t in the best space. Since the recent tragic death of her mother and baby daughter, she just can’t get her life back on track. To add to her woes, she’s sure that her relationship with long-term partner Matt, is on the rocks. He can’t seem to understand her inability to move on. Sophie has lost all focus – she has nothing to focus on!
But then, while going through the material she’s been working on for a project that she’s just completed, a photo catches her eye. It’s a wartime picture – WWII – 1944, to be exact, so it’s not recent, so obviously not clear, and the focus is a child in the foreground of the picture, not the woman in the background, the person who’s caught Sophie’s attention. Because although the woman’s image is blurry, the similarity between her, Sophie and Sophie’s late mother is quite uncanny. But when Sophie does the maths, thinks of all the family members she’s aware of and scans her memory for what she knows about her ancestry, this woman is nowhere to be found.
Mentally and physically exhausted, Sophie realises she desperately needs some time out, so she retreats to the only place that can bring her comfort and relief: the family estate in Cornwall. Her great-uncle Tom, now suffering from dementia, still lives there with his daughter Jean. And it’s here that Sophie learns of the family’s black sheep: Vivi Hamilton, who is never spoken about, never mentioned and has been banished from the annals of the family’s history for being a traitor to her country! Sophie is initially shocked and understandably upset, but once she’s had time to absorb what she’s heard, she realises that if this is really the case, then the photo she has doesn’t make any sense, for in it Vivi is walking away from a building known to have housed the British SOE (Special Operations Executive).
Sophie is determined to uncover Vivi’s full story. She’s unconvinced that her aunt helped a Nazi officer escape from the hospital that was being run from the family’s country home after becoming a Nazi herself! So she travels to Paris to discover as much as she can about Vivi’s life during the war.
The reader is lucky to learn the story as it’s told in dual timelines and from the perspectives of both Sophie and Vivi. We can see how people could have got things so very wrong, misunderstanding actions and motives. But it really did upset me that everyone was so ready to think the worst of Vivi, who was so brave, and so heroic throughout, even when she was positive that she couldn’t be. It is sad how human nature prevails, but we see it all the time: people are so much more willing to believe the worst rather than the best; more able to list to negative reports than positive truths. Suzanne Kelman portrays this side of human nature so perfectly, in all its ugly, heartbreaking glory.
Vivi questions her abilities throughout, despite her training and her obvious capabilities. But her own soft nature gets the better of her. Again, the author shines in the way that she describes Vivi and her innate humanity. In fact, her characterisation throughout is superb.
But where Suzanne Kelman once again shows her true strength as a historical author is through her meticulous research. She’s chosen one particular aspect of WWII history to focus on, based on a story she’d read while researching her previous book (A View Across the Rooftops. If you haven’t read it, why not?? Go and read it now – it’s exceptional! Here’s my review.). It was about an infiltrated Resistance Network, and theories about falsified information from the British Government at the time relating to the location of the D-Day landings. This compelled Suzanne to write a story from the point of view of a young spy who might have been a part of such a Resistance Network, leading her to wonder what kind of person would become a spy and what can be learned from such devotion, bravery and quiet determination.
This is an outstanding 5+ star read!
Suzanne Kelman is a 2015 Academy of Motion Pictures Nicholl Finalist, Multi-Award-Winning Screenwriter and a Film Producer. As well as working in film she is also an International Amazon Bestselling Fiction Author of the Southlea Bay Series – The Rejected Writers’ Book Club, Rejected Writers Take the Stage and The Rejected Writers’ Christmas Wedding. Born in the United Kingdom, she now resides in Washington State.
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Thank you to Bookouture for inviting me to tour with them, once again. Take a look at what other bloggers are saying about When We Were Brave …