It’s a real pleasure today to be helping open the blog tour for Notes from the Lost by Cathie Hartigan, published for kindle on 24th October (just 99p this week, and also available through Kindle Unlimited), and also available in paperback. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation and support: the e-copy I read was my own, purchased via Amazon.
Goodness, she’s kept us waiting for this one, hasn’t she? I remember it so vividly that I was quite surprised to find that I reviewed Cathie’s last novel, Secret of the Song, way back in November 2015: you’ll find that review here, and I made no secret of the fact that I absolutely loved it. So I was very much looking forward to this one… has she done it again?
In October 1943, when prisoners of war Alfie and Frank escape from a train taking them to Germany, their lives depend on the family of shepherds who shelter them. In constant jeopardy, the young men wait out the winter in the Italian mountains.
In 2000, Ros Goudy inherits her music teacher’s home in Exeter and there she finds letters that reveal the soldiers’ fate. Only one made it back, but it wasn’t to a warm welcome and happy ever after. What had happened that turned heads and hearts against him?
The trail she follows begins with an charming comic song composed before the war. What she discovers is that everyone, including herself, has something to hide.
There are sometimes books that take a while to get into their stride… you know, the ones where you wonder if it’s going to be the book for you, whether the story telling will begin to work its magic. But this book hooked me from the very beginning, as Alfie and Frank escaped their wartime journey and struggled for survival, helped by the exceptional kindness and bravery of their friends in the Italian Appenines.
The first thing that draws you in is Alfie’s clear voice, wonderfully sustained – he really made me feel, and I immediately took him to my heart as he shared his experiences, the privations, the heartbreak, and those precious moments of joy. The community in the mountains was superbly drawn, the locations vividly recreated, the risks the villagers took providing a palpable edge of danger – and I particularly loved the close friendship between the two men, united in their shared past and their passion to survive.
But this is a dual-time story, so we also follow the twists and turns of the life of Ros in 2000, her passion for music enabling her to scrape a living, her inheritance taking her down an unexpected path, and the fascinating unfolding mystery that ensues and ultimately draws the two stories together. All the characters in this book are so strongly drawn – Ros herself is an absolute joy from beginning to end, another clear voice that I enjoyed immensely. But the whole modern day supporting cast is excellent – the eminent conductor, Ros’ lovely father, the larger-than-life Thomasina, the multi-talented plumber, the slimy estate agent and more.
I particularly liked the way this book was structured – the stories begin by alternating, past and present then collide, and everything follows a rather less linear path to the book’s perfect climax and conclusion – and I slipped with absolute ease between the stories and timelines.
I’m in awe of the author’s skill as a story teller – other than those aggravating moments when life intervened, this was a book that entirely consumed me until I reached the end. She tells a gripping and well-researched wartime story, full of heart and emotion, desperately poignant, and balances it perfectly with a sometimes lighter modern thread, not without its darker and dramatic turns, shot through with well-judged moments of humour, a lovely developing love story, moments of tenderness, and an enthralling sequence of twists and turns and secrets uncovered that keep the pages turning. Her love of music resonates from the pages – but so does her love for her characters, particularly Alfie himself, both as a young man and in the present day.
I really loved this book – as I hope you can tell. And I must add that although I’m not someone who usually enthuses about book covers, this one is absolutely perfect for the story that lies within. Highly recommended by me – a wonderful story, beautifully told, that will long linger in the memory.
About the author
Cathie Hartigan lives in the beautiful, historic city of Exeter.
Although her professional training was in music, a decade ago she swapped one keyboard for another in order to take her life-long love of writing more seriously. Since then, she has won several prizes for her short stories and was a finalist in the annual Woman and Home short story competition three times.
Cathie lectured in creative writing for nine years at Exeter College before leaving to found CreativeWritingMatters.co.uk, which offers a range of writing services and administers four international literary competitions a year, including The Exeter Novel Prize and The Trisha Ashley Award.
When not writing, Cathie sings in a small vocal ensemble. The beautiful Devon coastline also provides plenty of distraction but on a rainy day if there’s an opera or theatre screening at the cinema, she’ll be there.