It’s a real pleasure today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of The Light We Left Behind by Tessa Harris. Published by HQ, the e-book will be available on 3rd December, with the paperback to follow on 3rd February – both formats available for pre-order. My thanks to HQ for the invitation, and for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
I’ve welcomed Tessa as my guest here on Being Anne a few times now, and it’s always been a pleasure. The last time she joined me, she shared the story behind her last book, Beneath a Starless Sky – a fascinating story of having been inspired by an article about an auction in the Sunday Times in 1990, and her long journey towards seeing the book published (you’ll find that post here). And I finally got round to reading the book in February this year – when it was published in paperback – and thoroughly enjoyed every moment (you can read my review again here). It’s a sweeping wartime story wonderfully told, a masterful blend of fiction and fact, overflowing with drama and intrigue – if it’s one you missed, I’d really recommend you catch up with it. And I was delighted to see the impending release of another wartime story, this time set around the little known Trent Park – I banished all other distractions, and settled down for another afternoon of sheer enjoyment…
When psychologist Maddie Gresham is sent a mysterious message telling her to report to Trent Park mansion, she wonders how she will be helping the war effort from a stately home.
Having signed the official secrets act, she soon finds captured Nazi generals are being detained at the house. Bugged with listening devices in every room, it’s up to Maddie to gain the Nazis’ trust and coax them into giving up information.
When Max Weitzler, a Jewish refugee, also arrives at Trent Park with the same mission, Maddie finds herself trapped in a dangerous game of chess.
The two met in Germany before the war, and Maddie’s heart was his from the moment they locked eyes. The hope that Max had escaped the Nazi threat was her guiding light in the darkness of war.
But Maddie has finally gained the trust of the Nazi officers at the house, and her love for Max must remain a secret.
As Hitler’s bombs destroy more and more English towns, it is up to Maddie to make one of the captured officers talk – at any cost.
But when there’s a shocking death at the mansion, Maddie realises that not everyone at Trent Park is on the same side.
When the walls have ears, who can you trust?
Based on the true events that took place at Trent Park during WWII, this is an emotionally gripping, and heart-breaking novel about love, sacrifice, and betrayal, perfect for fans of The Rose Code and The Lost Girls of Paris.
I’m fascinated by any story about Britain’s secret wartime history – this year I’ve enjoyed reading about Bletchley Park (with thanks to Kathleen McGurl’s The Girl from Bletchley Park), and discovered Buckinghamshire’s little-known Latimer House through Jules Wake’s The Secrets of Latimer House. This book introduced me to Trent Park – another secret location I hadn’t heard of before – where senior German officers were imprisoned, but in some degree of luxury, while listeners in the basement recorded and transcribed their conversations in the hope of uncovering information critical to the war effort.
Maddie Gresham – a psychologist living a quiet life in Oxford – is summoned to continue the work begun by her mentor, Dr Tobias Miskin, who has recently been found dead in what might or might not be suspicious circumstances. She’s the only one who can decipher his appalling handwriting, and she finds herself profiling the prisoners and steering the very gentle interrogation methods of others (encouragement, rather than correction) before taking a rather more unusual hands-on role. Brigadier Josef Wilhelm Hammler, also known as The Crocodile, arrives with a fearsome reputation and considerable knowledge of the new Vengeance weapon – treating him with kindness is never going to see him revealing any secrets and a rather different approach is called for, with Maddie playing a leading role.
Trent Park has also discovered the usefulness of stool pigeons, with German Jews assigned as batmen to the senior officers – and when Max Weitzler arrives in the wake of his own losses after the evacuation of Paris, he’s assigned to that role with Hammler. But Max and Maddie have a secret past, and a love that never died – she was an exchange student in Germany in 1936, staying with the Weitzlers and engaged in small acts of sabotage and vandalism in Max’s company, deported when caught red-handed one night. The book dips into Max’s own story – he’s the son of a Jewish mother, his father a rising star in the Nazi ranks, and they’re both cruelly cast out from their home, finding their way to Paris, then fleeing as the threat of invasion approaches.
It might have proved difficult melding the romantic thread with the wartime secret history and the developing mystery around the death of Maskin (and a body count that continues to increase), but I have to say that the author does it quite superbly. This is story-telling of the highest order, well-paced and compelling – the historical context is wonderfully drawn, and Maddie one of those strong and likeable women I always love to see at a story’s heart. There might just be a few small things about the story’s progress – particularly its resolution – that do push it a little in terms of credibility, but this is fact-based fiction and that’s entirely forgivable. The whole book is perfectly balanced – this was a story that swept me away, the moments of danger and the mounting suspense had me on the edge of my seat, and the romance at the story’s centre was one I totally believed in. Highly recommended – I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
About the author
Tessa Harris read History at Oxford University and has been a journalist, writing for several national newspapers and magazines for more than thirty years. Her debut, The Anatomist’s Apprentice, won the Romantic Times First Best Mystery Award 2012 in the US. She lectures in creative writing at Hawkwood College, Stroud and is married with two children. She lives in the Cotswolds.