Way back in October 2020, Alan Jones wrote to me about his forthcoming new series, the Sturmtaucher trilogy – we already knew each other, because I’d featured an interview with him in 2016 just before the publication of Bloq, the third of his thrillers (you can read that interview again here). We joked at the time that while his preference was for dark and gritty, mine tended more towards the pink and fluffy – and I never did get round to reading one of his earlier books. But when he talked about his new series – something very different indeed from his previous work – it was very clear that the new series was a labour of love, the result of five years of research and set around a subject and period of history that he was passionate about. I’m rather ashamed to say that I declined the opportunity to review – I just couldn’t commit to reading three substantial books (the first is over 800 pages long), and I really wasn’t at all sure that I would be the right reviewer for his Sturmtaucher trilogy.
The first in the series, The Gathering Storm, was independently published on 19th August (available for kindle at the introductory price of just £1.77) – a blog tour followed, and I found I rather regretted my earlier decision. The reviews were quite amazing – with tremendous praise for the depth of the research, the way the characters were written and brought the story to life, the rawness of emotion and the sheer readability of the story.
‘This book was such an incredible, outstanding read, the characters, the attention to detail, a powerful storyline, it’s definitely a book that will stay with me for a long time to come.’
Lorraine Rugman, The Book Review Café
‘The Gathering Storm couldn’t have been a more perfect title for this book. You can feel the war brewing and it is a story that will have a deep impact on its reader.’
Sarah Hardy, ByTheLetterBookReviews
So, now the blog tour is over, let’s take a closer look…
The Gathering Storm: Book 1 in the Sturmtaucher Trilogy: a powerful and compelling story of two families torn apart by evil.
Kiel, Northern Germany, 1933. A naval city, the base for the German Baltic fleet, and the centre for German sailing, the venue for the upcoming Olympic regatta in 1936.
The Kästners, a prominent Military family, are part of the fabric of the city, and its social, naval and yachting circles. The Nussbaums are the second generation of their family to be in service with the Kästners as domestic staff, but the two households have a closer bond than most.
As Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party claw their way to power in 1933, life has never looked better for families like the Kästners. There is only one problem.
The Nussbaums are Jews.
The Sturmtaucher Trilogy documents the devastating effect on both families of the Nazis’ hateful ideology and the insidious erosion of the rights of Germany’s Jews.
When Germany descends ever deeper into dictatorship, General Erich Kästner tries desperately to protect his employees, and to spirit them to safety.
As the country tears itself apart, the darkness which envelops a nation threatens not only to destroy two families, but to plunge an entire continent into war.
I really would have loved it too, wouldn’t I? But instead of sharing the review I really should have written – and I’m still kicking myself – I’m delighted to share an extract from this book that had such an impact on its early readers. For just a little background, Ruth Nussbaum, a nine year old Jewish girl, and Antje Kästner are best friends, and Ruth is the daughter of the domestic staff of General Erich Kästner, Antje’s father. They go to the same primary school, or Grundschule. They are two of the main characters in the trilogy…
Ruth’s hand shot up.
The teacher looked at her and smiled.
‘Albert Einstein, miss.’
‘Very good, Ruth. That was an excellent answer.’
Ruth beamed at the teacher.
‘Now, does anyone else know a famous German scientist?’
Miss Brinckmann looked around the class. Another hand was raised.
The boy was called Peter Hauer. He wasn’t the smallest boy in the class but had suffered sporadic bullying because of an unfortunate stammer. Ruth, Antje, and a few of the other girls had tried their best to curtail the taunts and pranks that he was forced to endure, and to a certain degree, they’d succeeded.
It all changed for Peter when he was one of the first in the school to join the Hitlerjugend. His Gebietsführer, the head of Hitlerjugend in Kiel, had seen something of himself in the boy and, over his first year, had steadily advanced him up the ranks until he was a section leader, despite his age.
The first time Rottenführer Hauer wore his uniform into school, the teacher made him change out of it. All the boy had with him was his sports gear, and he was made to sit through the whole day in shorts and a singlet.
Two days later, his Gebietsführer visited the school and spoke with the headmaster. From then on, Peter Hauer, and the classmates who followed him into the ranks of the Hitlerjugend, were permitted to wear their uniforms if they so wished.
Miss Brinckmann never acknowledged the change in the rules, but from that day forward, the bullying stopped, and the boy’s stammer disappeared.
Now, when he spoke, there was a sneering arrogance in his voice.
‘Max Planck, miss, because he is a true German. Not like Einstein.’
‘Max Planck is a great answer, but although Albert Einstein now lives and works in Switzerland, he was born in Württemberg and was educated in Munich.’
‘Miss, Albert Einstein is not a German. He is a Jew.’
For the briefest second, the class fell silent. Then two of the boys snickered.
‘What did you say?’ Her voice was quiet, but it cut through the uneasy shuffling of the class.
‘He is a Jew. Not a true German, miss.’
Her question had been rhetorical. She hadn’t expected him to repeat his statement. A flush spread upwards across her face.
‘Peter, please stand outside and I will come and deal with you.’
She would give the class an exercise to do and decide how to deal with the boy’s outburst.
‘No, miss. It is the Jews who should leave,’ he said, his voice strong and clear, looking at the three girls sitting near the front of the class.
She moved towards him but, out of the corner of her eye, she detected an almost imperceptible movement in the boy sitting next to him, then the boy across from him. She stopped, suddenly nervous.
In front of her, Peter Hauer raised his right arm, and started to sing.
‘Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!’
Raise the flag! The ranks tightly closed!
Halfway through the first line, another boy joined in, then another, leaving their seats and standing beside their desks with their arms raised, mimicking his. Before long, over half the class were singing the Horst Wessel Song.
‘Stop,’ she shouted, but the sound was drowned out by the boys’ voices, loud and in unison, in a flawless rendition of the National Socialists’ anthem. She looked around. One or two of the girls had also got to their feet and joined with the boys.
‘SA marschiert mit ruhig festem Schritt.’
The SA marches with calm, firm pace.
She looked at the three Jewish girls, sitting together, staring towards the front, their bodies rigid with fear. She closed her eyes.
When the song was finished, the boys remained standing.
‘Now you’ve had your little moment,’ the teacher said, her voice cold, ‘sit back down in your seats and act as children should. You will all be reprimanded, you especially, Peter Hauer.’
‘No, we won’t, Miss Brinckmann. Today we are honouring the leader of our country, Adolf Hitler.’
The rest of the class looked towards her, gauging how she would react. She estimated that two-thirds of her pupils were behind Peter Bauer and she conceded defeat.
‘Ruth, please go to Herr Lehmann’s office and ask him to come immediately.’
She realised her mistake at once.
Peter Hauer nodded, and two boys moved to the door, blocking it.
She cursed herself for choosing one of the Jewish girls. She should have chosen Antje, or one of the boys who wasn’t involved.
She moved to the door and, keeping eye contact with the boys guarding it, she forced them to separate and let her pass.
As she left the room, she heard the strains of the Hitlerjugend anthem rise again behind her. She ran.
Isn’t that simply stunning? My apologies Alan – we all make mistakes at times, and I’m so sorry I declined the opportunity to read and review. But this one’s now on my kindle, and I really want to carve out the time to read it later – I wish you every possible success with the whole trilogy. The second book in the trilogy, Flight of the Shearwater, will be published on October 7th (available to preorder from 23rd September): the third, The Turn of the Tide, will be published in late November.
About the author
Alan Jones is a Scottish author with three gritty crime stories to his name, the first two set in Glasgow, the third one based in London. He has now switched genres, and his WW2 trilogy will be published from August to December 2021. It is a Holocaust story set in Northern Germany.
He is married with four grown up children and four wonderful grandchildren.
He has recently retired as a mixed-practice vet in a small Scottish coastal town in Ayrshire and is one of the coxswains on the local RNLI lifeboat. He makes furniture in his spare time, and maintains and sails a 45-year-old yacht, cruising in the Irish Sea and on the beautiful west coast of Scotland. He loves reading, watching films and cooking. He still plays football despite being just the wrong side of sixty.
His crime novels are not for the faint-hearted, with some strong language, violence, and various degrees of sexual content. The first two books also contain a fair smattering of Glasgow slang.
He is one of the few self-published authors to be given a panel at the Bloody Scotland crime fiction festival in Stirling and has done two pop-up book launches at previous festivals.
He has spent the last five years researching and writing the Sturmtaucher Trilogy.
To find out more, please visit https://www.alanjonesbooks.co.uk/.