Novelists Engage With Suspense, Sense of Time and Place

Photo | Submitted The Huntress by Kate Quinn

Photo | Submitted
The Huntress by Kate Quinn

Two wonderful novels ended my summer — both suspenseful efforts by fine storytellers I’ve enjoyed before.

Earlier this year, author Kate Quinn, known for her 2017 bestseller, “The Alice Network,” published another historical spy  novel, “The Huntress.” In the new book, just as she did in “Alice,” Quinn used a split time and perspective technique.

This one takes place in three time periods and geographical locations: pre-World War II Siberia, World War II Europe and 1940s-’50s Boston; three characters narrate. Quinn masterfully weaves them all together in alternating chapters—and the stories are so compelling, it’s difficult to put down this 560-page tome. The varying points of view allow the reader to assess the truth.

Quinn does substantial research to make her historical novels authentic, and she documents the fact and fiction embodied in “The Huntress” in a lengthy afterward. Her storytelling skills, both in terms of dialogue and meticulous description of places, are exemplary as well.

Two unconventional female characters take center stage. Both fit the title’s description, but in very different ways. Lorelei Vogt is a Nazi who committed horrific war crimes and was known as Die Jägerin (the huntress); she has presumably fled to the United States. Quinn wrote that she is based on two real women, one a female camp guard, the other an SS officer’s wife named Erna Petri.

The other, Nina Markova, is an equally ruthless bomber pilot—a member of the Night Witches, the all-female military aviators of the Soviet Union’s 588th Night Bomber Regimen who got their name from the Germans because they dropped bombs on enemy encampments while flying at night in old wooden biplanes. Markova is among the three people who are hunting Vogt down.

Their backstories reveal that neither is the kind of traditional woman relegated to domestic duties while the men go off to fight. Quinn puts these women back into their rightful place in history; like men at war, they were in fact pilots, spies and even murderers.

Two men are the other members of the Nazi-hunting trio. The Englishman Ian Graham, a former prominent war correspondent who is conflicted about his non-fighting role in the war, wants to do what he can to bring justice to Nazis wherever they may be hiding and especially to avenge his beloved younger brother whom Die Jägerin killed in cold blood. He is assisted in his efforts by his American partner, Tony Rodomovsky, who wants to avenge his Jewish relatives, and Nina Markova, who witnessed Ian’s brother’s death and is the only person who has seen Die Jägerin’s face.

Graham, Rodomovsky and Markova’s search takes them to Boston where they encounter 19-year-old aspiring photographer Jordan McBride and her antiques dealer father Dan as well as his new wife Anneliese Weber and her 4-year-old daughter Ruth.

Almost from the start, Jordan—for whom this is somewhat of a coming-of-age story—suspects her stepmother has lied about her origins, but tries, despite troubling evidence, to overcome her doubts to make her father happy.

All the characters’ inter-relationships work to reveal the truth of everyone’s true identity and nature—and emphasize the horrific consequences of war not only on its victims but also on its survivors.

Photo | Submitted Necessary as Blood by Deborah Crombie

Photo | Submitted
Necessary as Blood by Deborah Crombie

“Necessary as Blood” is number 13 in American Anglophile Deborah Crombie’s character-driven mystery series about Scotland Yard detectives Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid. I had read and enjoyed the previous dozen books about the duo and somehow had not read this 2009 one or its subsequent entries. The good thing is that now I can binge-read—four to catch up on plus a new one coming out in October.

This time, at the request of a friend, the duo is working together on investigating the disappearance of a young British artist and her husband, a Pakistani-born attorney, that occurred within a few months of each other. In the process, James and Kincaid protect the missing couple’s 3-year-old daughter from the social service system and suspect relatives. The child simply tells them that her mom went away, and her dad went to look for her.

The story is set mostly in London’s East End, which includes Brick Lane, an area mostly inhabited by immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, especially Bangladesh, and Whitechapel, which features elegant Georgian townhouses, tony nightclubs and colorful street markets. Each chapter begins with a short relevant quotation from people who have observed the area from various points of view—like social scientist Geoff Dench and writers Rachel Lichtenstein, Tarquin Hall and Emanuel Litvinoff.

As always, Crombie writes and plots well, and her main characters seem realistic as well as supremely capable, likeable and compassionate. The stories of their investigation and their personal lives are interwoven nicely, and the denouement is plausible. Yes, this could be read as a stand-alone novel, but I strongly suggest starting from Crombie’s debut James and Kincaid novel, “A Share in Death” (1993), to witness the evolution of the protagonists’ personal and professional relationship.