Writing: 3/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 4/5
Elinor White has been trained to be a predator rather than prey which served her well during WWI when her home in Brussels was occupied by Nazis. It also served her well during WWII as she worked to protect her adopted country (England). But exercising those skills left their mark, and she finds herself torn between protecting those who can’t protect themselves and letting go of the violence that continues to haunt her.
A standalone (or possible new series beginning?) from the author of the Maisie Dobbs series, this book is kind of a mix between an historical novel and a mystery, with an emphasis on the former. It had a bit of a slow start but I was drawn in and found myself caring very much about the characters. I’m a big Winspear / Maisie Dobbs fan. I wouldn’t mind finding out more about Elinor White if this turns into a series…
Thank you to Harper and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on March 21st, 2023
Great historical fiction — peppered with the kind of details that say someone actually lived this story (or something close to it). Most historical fiction can’t help but overlay modern sensibilities on the story, but this one feels completely embedded in the time — from action to dialogue to thoughts.
Thomas Jackson “Stony” Shelor is a high school junior in small town Early, Virginia. His first-person account describes his experiences from Sept. 1959 through Sept. 1960 — working “for free” in the sheriff’s office, getting into trouble with town bullies, hankering after a girl who knows her own mind, and befriending the somewhat crazy new kid in town. This is all amidst much bigger events: massive black voter registration and the resulting Klan rallies; the (very) slowly shifting attitudes of whites towards blacks; and the fine line a good sheriff has to tread to work with corrupt elected officials and still try to keep a town lawful and safe.
It reads like good journalism — no surprise as this is the debut novel of a 46-year veteran journalist. I had forgotten how much I like a real story — not overburdened by excess angst, overly bold characters, and well-defined narrative arcs that bear little resemblance to reality.
I love the way the clean writing describes both the action and our narrator’s perceptions, reactions, and evolving opinions. He does some (to me) stupid things but we are treated to a real understanding of how his worldview and principles led him to those actions. Billed as a YA novel (the main character is 17), for me it was much more a documentation of a particular time and place as experienced by someone growing up in that time period. A nice juxtaposition of history and personal development.
As an aside, lots of interesting details about things like learning to shoot and care for firearms, working at a sheriff’s office, a garage or an apple orchard. Just enough detail to be interesting to someone (like me) that isn’t actually interested in those topics, but never enough to be boring. Also, fascinating attitudes among the largely working class members of the town — they don’t map to any definitions of “liberal” or “conservative” today — just people using their own minds as to the right way to live and treat people.