Behind the Scenes – the Independent Publisher

orenda letterhead redThis is the third in my ‘behind the scenes‘ look at some of the often unsung heroes who help to bring great crime fiction to bookshops and ultimately our shelves. This time my Q and A is looking at the role of the independent publisher and Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books was kind enough to give up her time to answer my questions.

Karen is the powerhouse behind Orenda Books which she launched in late 2014. Renowned for the way she supports her authors Karen is a master of social media, plays football for England in the annual  ‘Bloody Scotland Crime Writers’ Football Match: Scotland v England’, is a talented baker – providing themed cupcakes at her authors’ launches and even finds time to support authors outside her own list with a section on the Orenda website.

Was being a publisher something you imagined you would do when you were at school?

Well, apart from wanting to be a nurse or a fire-fighter, a ‘books’ career has always been on the radar. I remember reading a novel (the name escapes me) when I was about twelve or thirteen, and the protagonist was a young woman who read slush piles for a publisher. I couldn’t believe it. Reading books could be a JOB? I wrote short stories throughout my teenage years, and read voraciously from the moment I could do it myself. I also had a habit of making notes in the margins of books. I think I might have been made for this job! When I moved to the UK from Canada after university, my first ‘real’ job was with a publisher.

What prompted you to start Orenda Books?

I worked at the job above for a few years, moving from secretary to the editorial director to commissioning editor. I then left to become freelance, and ended up writing books about raising children, discipline, emotional health, education, etc., and did some TV and other media. I actually became tired of writing about the same type of thing, and when I was offered a job in a small independent, working a day or so a week writing press releases, jacket copy, etc., I leapt at it. It was an interesting and intensive experience, and I ended up working about seven days a week, not one! When a decision was taken by new shareholders to slash the list, I didn’t feel comfortable being there. After lying on my bed for about 24 hours, I made the decision to start my own publishing company. Towards the end of my former tenure, I was doing almost everything anyhow, so it wasn’t an entire leap. A month later, Orenda Books was born, and I haven’t looked back.

How would you describe the ethos of Orenda Books and the titles you choose to publish?

We publish literary fiction (and I use that word deliberately, because I have a very firm belief that you must never underestimate readers of genre fiction, and assume that they all want the churn-em-out stuff), with a heavy emphasis on crime thrillers, and about half in translation. There are some exceptionally wonderful aberrations on my list, and it is honestly a huge relief and source of excitement to be able to publish exactly what I want, with no one to whom I have to account!

I believe in a lot of things. We publish across many formats, including audiobooks with the wonderful Audible, a few in hardback, all in ebook and in paperback. But I firmly believe that people who choose a physical book over an ebook want something beautiful – something that is a joy to read, to hold! We use great paper, have fantastic jacket designers, truly wonderful typesetting with lots of little details, and I think it makes a real difference. In less than two years we are competing well with the conglomerates, and producing books that certainly match theirs, in both look and feel, not to mention content.

The writing REALLY matters to me, as does a tight, seamless plot. All Orenda authors are exquisite writers – that is essential. And I love the idea of pushing the boundaries of a genre – bringing something new or different to it, upholding its greatest traditions, enlightening, drawing attention to social or other issues while entertaining. It’s a vibrant market and it’s an honour to have the opportunity to bring some truly amazing authors to readers.

I don’t care about becoming rich or famous; I care about doing this job well and doing justice to my increasingly BRILLIANT stable of authors!

What has been the biggest challenge for you and what has been your biggest success to date?

last-days-of-disco_december-with-quotes-copy-2You know what? I would say that EVERY book has been a success in its own way. To date, our runaway bestselling titles are Ragnar Jonasson’s Snowblind, Nightblind and Blackout, and Amanda Jennings’ In Her Wake, but in Scotland David F. Ross’s books (The Last Days of Disco and The Rise & Fall of the Miraculous Vespas) have received unbelievably wonderful critical acclaim and sold both in other countries and (secret) formats! We’ve had rights sold, books optioned for film and the stage. We’ve won prizes, had seven number-one kindles, achieved excellent review coverage in the papers, been incredibly well supported by the all-important blogging community, been shortlisted for the IPG Best Newcomer Award, got a Bookseller Rising Star this year, got authors into over 40 festivals. I could go on! Every author on my list is magnificent, and their achievements never fail to astound and excited me. Having wonderful new authors keen to join is also a success. We have a team that people want to join, and I LOVE that!

Challenges. OK, well it’s hard to make a name for a new company and I also have a LOT of debuts, which means that it can be even harder to persuade booksellers to take us and our authors seriously. We do a lot of translations, so cash flow is always slightly alarming (we spend probably £15K per book for a translated title before it even hits the shelves, which is considerably higher than it would be for a book in English). I am the only employee in this company, and luckily have a brilliant team of freelancers who sort me out with jackets and editorial things (I would be remiss if I did not mention West Camel here, who is my second eye and the best editor I’ve ever met! Plus Mark Swan, who does my jackets and Liz Wilkins and Anne Cater, who have done other magnificent things), but the amount of work is sometimes terrifying! We’ve gone from six books in the first year, to almost triple that this year, with the same again next year. I often feel faint!

Another challenge is an obvious one. The bigger companies tend to be more risk-averse, and often watch smaller companies to see which authors are performing well, before swooping in with a big cheque. This is a frustration, but I suppose that’s business. The irony is, of course, that bigger doesn’t mean better and being published by someone completely passionate about your books can equate to very strong sales. That’s certainly happened here.

How might being an author with an independent publisher differ compared to a major publishing house? 

2016-03-22-18-55-50I think the main thing is the personal approach. I work closely with my authors from the moment they are signed onwards. I attend events  and festivals with them, edit, promote, pitch to the sales teams around the world, and that’s something that I think authors enjoy. Having been an author myself for many, many years, I understand that everyone needs to feel valued and know that they are getting full support. I don’t know about other independents, but we are very much a team here at Orenda. We are growing together. We support each other. Celebrate the successes, and push when things are trickier. It’s just the BEST environment to nurture some incredible talent, and I think we are all happy and home, and all working VERY hard to achieve the best. Being a big fish in a small pond, or even a noticeable fish in a pond, is something that attracts people to small publishers. Plus independents tend to be more nimble, able to take risks and act quickly, and generally do things with authors that might never get past a big acquisitions meeting at a conglomerate. We’ve had a number of very big-name authors interested in joining us, so that probably says something about the ‘small town’ approach.

What impact has the rise of self-publishing had for smaller publishers?

I don’t think it’s a problem at all. I’ve signed two self-published authors and would actively encourage authors who are struggling to get an agent or a deal to consider this approach. There is no shame in doing it yourself, and some very good writers have their roots in the self-published world. It does, of course, mean that the market can become quite saturated, and the quality is, unfortunately, not always there. I worry sometimes that books are devalued by the number of free and very cheap ebooks available, and becoming strongly geared towards disposable reads. After all, if you pay only 99p or get it free, who cares, really? I never lower prices on our ebooks unless they are supported by a major retailer (or they reduce it them themselves) because I am well aware that authors need to earn a living, and we need to survive, too. Having said all that, our ebook sales are increasing month by month, and we know that people are happy to pay full price (not expensive by any means) for wonderful, readable books!

What one piece of advice would you give to an author who is trying to get their first publishing deal?

in-her-wake-hbcover-copy-4I would suggest that you get and take every bit of constructive criticism that you can. Beta readers (first readers) are invaluable, and although it is very painful to cut words, plotlines, characters and even passages of prose, you need to trust the opinions of those who know what they are doing. In particular, agents, or publishers who take the time to point out where there might be weaknesses. There are some incredible mentoring programmes for aspiring authors, courses (sometimes expensive, but possibly worth it) and other authors who run these courses or will do a report for a small fee. I DEFINITELY don’t like to promote anyone in particular, but Amanda Jennings is very involved in the Womentering scheme, and Michael J. Malone actually earns his living sorting out people’s books (around writing his own). If you can’t get a publisher or an agent, and feel that your book is as strong as it can be, then go ahead and self-publish. But get yourself out there, too. Attend fairs, festivals, events where other authors in your genre might be. Make friends. Network. Get some support and help. Use social media wisely – to befriend and let people know your book is there, without repeating messages and becoming annoying. It’s a close and supportive community, this book world, and I think that if you make friends and attract potential readers, you’ll be in with a chance. But don’t forget how important it is to get your book right before you submit it. And learn the art of writing a blurb – a summary of your book, much like what appears on the back of the books you pick up in the bookshops. If you can sell your book in a paragraph, you’ll attract notice.

sealskin-vis-3-copyFinally, I REALLY dislike it when a writer compares themselves to someone on my list. It’s nice to have an idea of the type of reader it might attract (for example, I am publishing a book called Sealskin next year, and a few wonderful comparisons came to mind, such as a book called The Year of Wonders and the author Angela Carter), which is very useful for the sales team. But if you tell me that you write exactly like Amanda Jennings or Michael Malone, chances are you aren’t going to get very far. I HAVE those authors. I don’t want copycats. Every author has to bring something new, special and different to the table.

Without giving away any trade secrets – what are your ambitions for Orenda Books?

My ambitions are to carry on exactly the way we are at the moment. Acquiring authors that fit the list and will add to the company – and the genre and industry in some way – while keeping it small enough to maintain the personal touch I mentioned above. My authors didn’t buy into something grand and big, and I will ensure that we are always a team, and that everyone is important. Having said that, I publish wonderful books, and I expect to win prizes and sell lots of them. These authors are magnificent, and I will be sticking by them as they soar. And I fully expect that all will do so. And that’s also what they bought into. A great future.

Another ambition is to demystify translated literature. While there is a thriving niche market, there is no reason in the world why the average reader wouldn’t enjoy books from other countries. I’ve got some of the MOST amazing translators in the business working with me, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find even one of our translated titles that feels awkward. We cherry pick the VERY best books from other countries, and that’s something that we want to continue.

Have you ever been tempted to write yourself?

I was a writer for many, many years, and I also ghostwrote a lot of books (for quite famous people, too!). I can write a blurb and a nice advance information sheet. I can pull apart a book and put it back together again in the BEST way. But could I do what my authors are doing? No way! They are imaginative, smart, brilliantly creative and talented, and I never buy a book that doesn’t give me at least four goosebump moments. And that doesn’t mean just plot. It means writing, too. I truly believe that I have some of the best writers in the genre on this list, and the stuff that is happening around them – awards, fresh talent picks, prizes, TV deals, reader and blogger top reads, review coverage, festival and event invitations, bestseller lists – it all confirms that we are on the right track. While I can fix books that need attention, I would be a complete fool to think I could write anything like the books that appear on my list!

What are you reading at the moment?

Ooh, OK! It’s a mix! I am a person who has books all over the place. Beside my bed is Craig Robertson’s Murderabilia, and I am LOVING IT! Today I got a copy of Gallows Drop by Mari Hannah, and that is going to be my downstairs, on-the-sofa read. In my handbag, I’ve got more, including the OMG BUY IT Fiona Cummins’ debut Rattle, and, similarly, the new Erin Kelly (He Said; She Said, gasp!), which I should pass on, but can’t bear to. The new Ian Rankin is buzzing in my bag.

Then on my computer, it’s all about submissions and editing. We’ve just finished Steph Broadribb’s Deep Down Dead. And for the first time, we’re experimenting with bound proof copies. This is ONE book you won’t forget in a hurry!! But I’m also reading the beautiful, mesmerising Sealskin by Su Bristow, a debut author retelling the Selkie legend. Again, oh WOW! Something always on the go, and fortunately not only are my personal reads all different, but my authors are absolutely different! My last ‘non-crime’ read was Schtum by Jem Lester and it would not hesitate to recommend it. There are LOADS more in the pile.

I do a ‘community blog’ on the Orenda website, and we feature Q&As with ‘other’ authors. So I get sent a WHOLE load of books with a view to doing just that! On the horizon are books by Anya Lipska, Eva Dolan, Michael Wood, Doug Johnstone, Derek B. Miller, Ali Land, Erin Kelly, Mark Hill, Joseph Knox, Luca Veste and more … I am SO busy, so I only read the ones that hook me with the blurb, the jacket or the premise. Aspiring authors, take note!

You can find Karen on twitter under the name @OrendaBooks.


I’d like to thank Karen for taking the time to give such candid answers to my questions.

The Hermit – Thomas Rydahl

51mdiqrtcqlTitle – The Hermit

Author – Thomas Rydahl (translated by K E Semmel)

Published – 2014 (Oct 2016 in translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

This is another book that I’ve found a little puzzling. I think it’s been the mix of Canary Isles setting and Nordic Noir sentiment that made this quite a challenging read.

‘The Hermit’ is Erhard, a sixty-something Danish ex-pat who lives a reclusive life on Fuerteventura, earning a living as a taxi driver and sometime piano tuner. He is asked by a friend in the local police force to look at some pieces of a Danish newspaper that were found with the dead body of a baby boy. Although he can shed no light on the source or relevance of the newspaper he is galvanised into finding out more about the abandoned child. When the police are involved in a cover up Erhard takes drastic action to foil them and ends up in a bizarre situation as a result.

As well as being a story of detection and investigation it’s also Erhard’s story – a sort of reawakening for him. His is the only character that is really fleshed out – all the others seem to be less well defined. As the story unfolds he looks back on his life and some of his regrets and grasps some of the opportunities that are presented to him. This aspect of the book – the introspection and detail of his daily activities slows the pace down but there are some thrilling action pieces to balance this. His amateur investigation leads him down some paths he could never have anticipated and Rydahl delivers a complex and twisting plot. Although I picture the island to be quite a large place it seems to have a village mentality and it seems as if everyone knows everyone else’s business – including what Erhard is up to.

There are a few things hinted at in the book which never seemed to be fully explained and these are typical of Nordic fiction – a mysterious break up with his wife and the suggestion of an uncanny ability to find customers for his taxi. The author doesn’t shy away from more gory and graphic aspects of the story and shows a side of the location that holidaymakers might not be familiar with.

The book has won Rydahl many plaudits in Denmark including:

  • Winner of the Danish literary Debutant Prize 2014
  • Winner of the National Danish Crime and Thriller Prize 2015
  • Winner of the Nordic Crime and Thriller Prize “The Glass key” 2015

It will be interesting to see how the English translation is received.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Ice Lands – Steinar Bragi

Title – The Ice Lands

Author – Steinar Bragi (translated by Lorenza Garcia)

Published – Oct 2016 (in English)

Genre – Crime fiction / Thriller / Horror

This came as an unsolicited review copy but I was intrigued by the cover and with an interest in all things Icelandic it pushed its way to the top of my TBR pile.

The story is about four friends and a dog who are on a camping trip in the volcanic wilds of Iceland. There are tensions between the four and they see the trip as away of mending their relationships but things have already become fraught early on in the journey when they crash in the middle of nowhere. They take refuge in an isolated farmhouse occupied by a mysterious elderly couple.

The efforts to resume their journey are thwarted – they fail to leave in their jeep, or in the car they borrow from the couple and even resorting to leaving on foot they end up returning to the dark and menacing house. At the times where they have put some distance between themselves and the house they make further mysterious discoveries in the wilderness – an abandoned car, an abandoned village on a cut-off ‘island’.

The inside of the house, farm and the couple are no less puzzling. They struggle to figure out the relationship between the uncommunicative man and woman, there are animals’ bodies on the doorstep and a hidden room that just adds to the mysteries.

As the story unfolds the backstory of the characters comes out which casts light on them both as individuals and on the relationships between the four of them. In some ways these feel like caricatures – this isn’t a criticism but it feels as if the author was using the four people to highlight some of the issues around the financial crash (the book was published in Iceland in 2011). Their lives and perspectives are quite exaggerated but their reactions to the events after they become stranded seem surprisingly relaxed.

I still don’t know what to make of this book. It was part crime, part thriller, part horror and part, well, just plain weird. I was really taken in by it. I didn’t particularly like the characters, but I wanted to know what happened to them (or what had happened to them). I didn’t have any issues with the writing or translation. There was probably too much of the characters’ backstory for me but the story was atmospheric, tense, dark – it really gripped me. But I just couldn’t figure out what was going on… Since finishing the book and while writing my review I’ve had a look to see what other people make of the book. There is a full synopsis on Wikipedia which tells me that it ‘enjoyed very positive reviews’ although it seems to be struggling to do so in the English translation. Perhaps it just isn’t reaching the right audience.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Crime fiction debuts to look out for in September 2016

A little late – this is a look forward to the crime fiction/thriller debuts being published in September 2016.

8 September 2016

51O7kpP4GYL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker (from Twenty7 Books)

When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town. Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect. Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures. Newcomer Jared, with an easy charm and a string of broken hearts in his wake. Photographer Jerry, who’s determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.

And, investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own . . .

Chris Whitaker was born in London and spent ten years working as a financial trader in the city. When not writing he enjoys football, boxing, and anything else that distracts him from his wife and two young sons.

Follow Chris on Twitter @WhittyAuthor. The book was published as an ebook in April and is out now in paperback. You can see a review of this debut on Liz Loves Books.

Breaking Dead by Corrie Jackson (from Twenty7 Books)

71zh3wipx6lThis is the first book in a compelling crime series starring investigative journalist, Sophie Kent. Sophie’s tenacity and talent have seen her rise through the ranks of a tough newspaper industry, but her brother’s suicide has thrown her career and personal life into chaos. Whilst interviewing witnesses of a brutal child murder, Sophie befriends a traumatised Russian model. When the girl’s mutilated body turns up in an upmarket hotel on the eve of London Fashion Week, Sophie knows she could have saved her. Eaten away by guilt, she throws herself headfirst into the edgy, fast-paced world of fashion with one goal in mind: to catch the killer. Only then can she piece her grief-stricken self back together.

As Sophie chips away at the industry’s glittery surface, she uncovers a toxic underworld rife with drugs, secrets, prostitution and blackmail. The investigation propels Sophie from the glamour of the catwalk to London’s darkest corners, towards a sinister past and a twenty-year-old murder case that could hold the key. Battling her demons and her wealthy, dysfunctional family along the way, Sophie pushes her personal problems to one side as she goes head to head with a crazed killer. A killer who is only just getting started.

Corrie Jackson has been a journalist for fourteen years and has worked at Harpers Bazaar, The Daily Mail, Grazia and Glamour. After a sunny two-year stint freelancing in Los Angeles, she is now coming to terms with the weather in Surrey, England where she lives with her husband and two children.

22 September 2016

The Two O’Clock Boy by Mark Hill (from Sphere)

51jxlnsreqlThirty years ago, the Longacre Children’s Home stood on a London street where once-grand Victorian homes lay derelict. There its children lived in terror of Gordon Tallis, the home’s manager. Then Connor Laird arrived: a frighteningly intense boy who quickly became Tallis’ favourite criminal helper. Soon after, destruction befell the Longacre, and the facts of that night have lain buried . . . until today.

Now, a mysterious figure, the Two O’Clock Boy, is killing all who grew up there, one by one. DI Ray Drake will do whatever it take to stop the murders – but he will go even further to cover up the truth.

This debut is out as an ebook in September followed by paperback version in November.

Mark Hill is a London-based full-time writer of novels and scripts. Formerly he was a journalist and a producer at BBC Radio 2 across a range of major daytime shows and projects. He has won two Sony Gold Awards. And by night he blogs as Crime Thriller Fella.


For previous ‘debuts’ posts see JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune, July and August.

The Hangman’s Song – James Oswald

Title – The Hangman’s Song

Author – James Oswald

Published – 2014

Genre – Crime fiction

It is purely by accident that I followed one book set in Glasgow with one set in Edinburgh, but other than the Scottish setting these two books are quite different approaches to crime fiction. The Hangman’s Song is the third in the ‘Inspector McLean’ series by James Oswald and the first of his books that I have read.

A young colleague attends a suicide and asks for McLean’s help when he suspects that all may not be as it seems. Initially this is just based on a hunch but as the evidence is collected it does point to something other than a simple suicide. A second, very similar suicide suggests that the police have every reason to pursue the investigation however things aren’t that straight-forward. Detective Inspector Tony McLean seems to be quite a sober man (not literally although neither is he an alcoholic) who takes his job and his quest for justice very seriously. He also seems to be a pretty unpopular one with his colleagues but particularly with his current boss. And his boss wants things wrapped up quickly and preferably without any input from McLean.

The book certainly packs a lot in. As well as trying to, virtually singled-handedly, investigate the suspicious suicides McLean is also working on an investigation within the Sexual Crime Unit (Vice) after a group of young women are discovered being trafficked from Leith. His involvement in this investigation leads him into even more conflict with his colleagues.

McLean also has a complicated personal life, supporting  Emma, a young woman who has been in a coma. This part of the story harks back to the previous book in the series and here I felt I was missing out – there is a lot of backstory and in avoiding repeating the details for readers familiar with the series I felt I didn’t really know enough about what had happened. This part of the story – exploring his relationship and helping Emma recover her memory also hints at some supernatural events.

McLean is a likeable, if rather dour, main protagonist. The disadvantage of his fragmented working relationships, however, is that I didn’t feel that I got to know any of his colleagues and I suspect that they may have played more substantial roles in earlier books. Although Oswald doesn’t shy away from violence and gore most of this is meted out out of ‘sight’ of the reader. I enjoyed the Edinburgh / Leith setting and although showing a darker side than tourists may see this wasn’t so gritty that it would put anyone off visiting! A shame that I’ve left it so long to read a book by James Oswald but I will be sure to read more in the series.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of this book.

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The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid – Craig Russell

51OeFxi-oWLTitle – The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid

Author – Craig Russell

Published – 4 August 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve heard a lot about Craig Russell’s books – largely through his connection with Bloody Scotland and The Ghosts of Altona which won the Bloody Scotland Crime Book of the Year in 2015. He has two crime fiction series – one set in Hamburg (The Ghosts of Altona is from this series) and the other set in Glasgow of the 1950s. The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid is from the latter – his ‘Lennox’ series.

Lennox is a private detective who operates on the fringes of what is legal – although employing an ex-policeman to help in his business he’s not above getting involved in something lucrative that isn’t strictly above board. In this case he has been approached to get access to something which is a little out of the ordinary and to complete the job he needs the skills of Quiet Tommy Quaid. Quaid is Lennox’s friend and a thief, a man everyone liked but, as it turned out, a man with a secret. When Quaid dies unexpectedly (I think as it’s in the title I don’t need to worry about that being too much of a spoiler) Lennox has some reservations about the official explanation so is more than willing to investigate in a more official capacity for Quaid’s (attractive) sister.

With a light touch on the historical detail and a snappy dressing, womanising PI this is was a very enjoyable read. Lennox makes an interesting protagonist and he has a dry sense of humour that helps to lighten the mood on what could be a very dark story. The post-war setting provides some interesting situations and it makes a pleasant change to leave behind modern technology without having to provide some sort of artifice for its absence.  The first person narration serves the plot well keeping the reader and Lennox in the dark.

I enjoyed this story which was a dark, violent and twisty story of a seedy conspiracy. There were some themes about justice, the abuse of power and what men will do when they believe one of the direst crimes has been committed. There were some thrilling scenes as well as some puzzles which added a mystery element. Although this is the fifth in the series it really did seem to me to be a book that could be read on its own – I don’t feel that I missed out by not knowing any of Lennox’s backstory.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of this book.

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The Constant Soldier – William Ryan

416hB6-rgfLTitle – The Constant Soldier

Author – William Ryan

Published – 25 August 2016

Genre – Historical

This a departure from William Ryan’s Stalinist Russia set police procedural series but it shares Ryan’s polished prose and evocative depiction of historical fiction.

The story is set in the last months of the Second World War and German soldier Paul Brandt has been sent back home from the Eastern Front after being seriously injured in a Soviet attack. On returning to his village he finds that the SS have built a rest hut on the outskirts of his village, a luxurious a retreat for those who manage the nearby concentration camp or need to convalesce before returning to the front.

Drawn by a glimpse of someone he thinks is familiar, Brandt takes on the role of Steward at the hut, offering him a brief insight into the lives of the men who make use of the hut or are stationed there. This is a great opportunity to see a whole range of perspectives – from the Commandant who is haunted by the past, the vindictive Scharführer guarding the women prisoners, to the visitors from the camp and of course, the women prisoners themselves.

The main plot is driven by Brandt’s efforts to make amends for a wrong he believes he did and all that he does is to that end. Brandt is wary of sharing his own trepidation and doubts but occasionally he is drawn out to say more than he should, adding an extra layer of tension to the plot. The story has quite a slow pace but this is balanced with action scenes which come from a young Russian woman who is driving a tank which is heading towards Germany. Brandt’s return home also shows the impact that the war has had on his village and the family he left behind, and how his father and sister have fared while has been away. Divisions have opened up and whilst some people have had to go into hiding others are still pursuing victory and are keen to uphold the defence of the Reich to the last.

Ryan effortlessly creates the mood and atmosphere of the last days of the war and makes the book completely absorbing. I’m not sure that I’ve read a book that’s taken this perspective on the war, disillusioned characters who have an inkling of what their future may hold.  It made me pause to consider the people in this situation, forced along with the atrocities they knew were taking place with little chance of making any difference. How did people react when the conclusion of the war (not just this war but any war) became inevitable and they were going to be on the losing side, complicit in what had taken place? It speaks volumes for a novel when it makes you consider the reality of the situation it depicts.

As a departure from the Korolev series this may find Ryan a whole new swathe of fans – if you enjoy books like Atonement and Birdsong this will be right up your street. Beautifully written, thought-provoking and emotionally compelling, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Many  thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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