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A novel of exceptional style and momentum, sustained at a high emotional pitch, and beautifully constructed. - Alan Furst, New York Times Book Review. At once a thriller and a moral tale, this taut, heart-stopping novel explores the deadly perils of collaboration on quiet, idyllic Guernsey in the Channel Islands, the only British territory to be occupied by German troops in World War II. It is 1943. The tide of the war is beginning to turn decisively and bloodily against Germany, but on Guernsey life proceeds ...
A novel of exceptional style and momentum, sustained at a high emotional pitch, and beautifully constructed. - Alan Furst, New York Times Book Review. At once a thriller and a moral tale, this taut, heart-stopping novel explores the deadly perils of collaboration on quiet, idyllic Guernsey in the Channel Islands, the only British territory to be occupied by German troops in World War II. It is 1943. The tide of the war is beginning to turn decisively and bloodily against Germany, but on Guernsey life proceeds blithely beyond the reach of brutal combat. Nazi officers party with local girls, love affairs blossom, the amateur dramatics society continues to stage theatricals. Then the body of a young woman, her nose and mouth filled with cement, is found dead in a bunker, and Guernsey's long-running comedy of collaborative manners sours into a dark drama of war horrors shared by the islanders and enemy alike." A suspense novel that remains faithful to the conventions of the genre while elevating them.... The atmosphere is more like that of a Graham Greene 'entertainment' than a thriller, and the result is richer, scarier, and more satisfying." - Washington Post Book World; "This is a novel you hate to see end, even when the conclusion is so satisfying." - Chicago Tribune; "As sad as it is gripping.... A candid account of the baseness of human nature during wartime, woven seamlessly into a stirring murder mystery." - Rocky Mountain News.
The Battle was over. Fortress Stalingrad was no more. What remained of the great army huddled broken, like its commander General Paulus, bereft of speech, squatting in cellars or flooded foxholes, unable to comprehend the savagery of their downfall and the enormity of their betrayal. Flying to the island with the plane's mid-afternoon shadow racing over the deep green waters of the Channel, it was hard for Lentsch to believe that at the other end of the continent men that he had known, men who were so used to victory, men who knew the worth of themselves and the army in which they served, had been left to die in the frozen ruins of their invincible dream. It was not simply the totality of their defeat but the manner of it. Travelling back from his leave Lentsch was returning with tales more terrible, more desolate, than any he had heard before, tales that he was afraid to impart to anyone else, lest they infect the island with an ineradicable melancholy.
The encirclement had come in November, from a Slavic enemy whose numbers seemed unimaginable. Where had they sprung from, these winter blooms, appearing from the east with names He had believed to be long extinct? As each division had been identified and marked on His map they were stared and marvelled at as a botanist might gaze at some unidentified flower, half unbelieving that such plants could resurrect themselves so quickly from such poisoned wastes. Surely that division had perished at Kiev, this one annihilated north-west of Kalatch? But along the banks of the Don and the Volga they had risen again, springing up in numbers undreamed of,strangling those who had thought to clear the ground of their despised vegetation with fresh shoots of implacable strength. And thus had His army been surrounded and ordered by Him to hold fast, even though common sense dictated that it escape, push the growing entanglement aside and reach safety. Generals had flown out and pleaded with Him to let them attempt a breakout, but His answer was always the same. He must not leave the Volga, He could not leave the Volga, He shall not leave the Volga. To leave the Volga would be a humiliation, to leave the Volga would be a disgrace, not solely for Him but for the whole of Germany. The Sixth Army must hold fast. And now they were gone and the world in which they had lived had gone with them. One hundred and forty-five thousand dead and ninety-one thousand captured, a catastrophe of biblical proportions. And here was Major Lentsch, flying to another of His obsessions, another Fortress in the making.
All through that winter men had been pouring in onto the island: engineers from Belgium, skilled construction workers from France, men laden with theodolites and drills who bored holes and tapped rocks and drew their indelible marks in the sand. There seemed no end to them. Down in St Peter Port the harbour was jammed with trawlers and tugs and great floating cranes, their necks bent double in search of their prey; metal rods, barbed wire, timber, and cement — always cement, the essential dust of His creation, cement in the flat-bottomed barges which wallowed their way from Cherbourg, cement stacked twelve feet high on St Julian's Pier, cement hauled round the island on the narrow-gauge railway built for its exclusive use, to be mixed and poured and moulded into the fertile shapes of war. A military chastity belt of His design had been fitted around the island's most tender regions, so that like a jealous lord He could prevent any violation of His fresh, plump property. But still He wanted more: more concrete, more guns, more men. In all of Western Europe there was nothing that glittered in His mind's eye more brightly than the Channel Islands. Inselwahn, they called it. Island Madness.
Though the north of Guernsey is blessed with longer, sandier beaches, it is the tiny bays of the south, hidden by steep paths and high ferns, that form the island's sparkling garland. Flying towards Jerbourg Point, Lentsch could see the coves in which he had bathed so often, Corbiere, La Jonnet, Petit Bot Bay, and then, as the plane banked north, came the long gabled roof of the Villa Pascal that looked down on the most delightful of them all, Saints Bay. As they passed over the house Lentsch noticed that the French windows had been thrown open while above, in continental fashion, the bedding hung out of the bedroom windows, even Albert's. The house looked as still and as perfect as ever, but for the first time Lentsch saw it all in blocks of colour: the shining white of the stone, the patchy greens of the lawn, the red-ochre cliffs spattered with a dark fuzz of olive and beneath it all the burning blue of the swollen sea. He imagined the brush strokes he would be unable to accomplish, the skill that had guided Cézanne's hand. It was true what he had painted, what others had seized upon. He had always believed that it must be, despite the strident arguments which were now ranged against him and his kind. Now, unexpectedly, Lentsch had seen a glimmer of it for himself. From this plane, of all places! He said nothing to his companion, but raised the roll of canvas to his lips, as if in silent homage. These few acres had held him in their captive embrace for over two years, and every inch bore memories: the grass where they held their comic games of polo, with him and Zep as the horses and Molly's straw hat as the prize; the jetty where first he had taught Isobel to dive; the rocky path down which they had all skipped encumbered in fancy dress; the ledge underneath the old tower where he would sit and paint. How fortunate it was that there should have been a war strong enough to carry him this far. On one rare occasion, when he had been invited to dinner at Isobel's house, he had told them that when it was all over he would like to live here. She had looked at her father quickly, but neither had said anything. There was no need. They both knew what was meant. He was not the enemy. He was a soldier, that was all.
Though the sky above was still clear, clouds were banking up to the north-east, promising an evening of rain and harsh wind. Lentsch had felt the beginnings of it tugging at the wings of the plane ever since they had taken off. He had not expected to arrive this way, but had bumped into Ernst in Granville market while haggling over the price of an under-the-counter round of cheese. Lentsch had stuffed it into his greatcoat pocket hoping that Ernst hadn't noticed, but there was nothing to worry about. Ernst was returning from one of his frequent conferences at Cherbourg. Speer had been there! Speer, Reichsminister for Armaments and Munitions, Director of the Organisation! Ernst could hardly contain his excitement. In an uncharacteristic display of generosity he offered Lentsch a ride in his plane — a Focke-Wulf 189.
`It's not right, Major,' he had said, clasping Lentsch in a boastful embrace, squashing the illicit purchase in the process. `Surely a man of your position can persuade von Schmettow to place an aircraft at your disposal. We'll radio ahead for your car.'
His startled owl-like features flickered in self-congratulation. Lentsch had given him the weakest of smiles in return. It was not Ernst's charm that cut the ice with the Military Government over in St Germain. However, as Guernsey's head of the Organisation Todt, the ever-expanding construction arm of the Wehrmacht, he had a greater authority to call upon. Civilians might laugh at the sight of the State Labour Service parading up and down the Esplanade, gleaming shovels at the ready, but the truth was that Ernst could have anything he liked. On the few times he had been invited to the Villa, Lentsch had noticed him looking over the house with a nakedly acquisitive eye. Though his headquarters were to be found in one of the grandest house of them all, Saumarez Park (and making a pig of the grounds according to Albert, a much greater crime in his book than any vandalism committed on the building), he himself lived in a rather modest bungalow at the back of the town. Still Lentsch was grateful for the lift. A six-hour crossing from St Malo in choppy waters with sullen members of the Wehrmacht brooding over the latest news was not what he had wanted. Better to listen to Ernst and his miraculous feats of engineering.
Ernst leant over and tapped him on the knee, pointing down to where Albert held his daily battle with the moles.
`By the way,' he shouted over the noise of the engine. `Some artillery fellows will be coming over to your place in the next couple of days. To take a look at the lawns.'
Lentsch felt a tug of unease. `The lawns?'
`Yes. There is a feeling that we require another battery post in that area. The bay in general is not sufficiently protected.'
Lentsch looked back to the wide sweep of Moulin Huet. It was empty save for a lone fishing boat making its weekly licensed lobster trawl along the coast. It might be one of the most secluded parts of the island, suitable perhaps for a reconnaissance landing of two or three, but it would be suicide to attempt anything on a larger scale.
`Protected from what?' he shouted back. `Nothing of any size could land there. The coves are too small, the paths too narrow. Besides we have one gun emplacement on the other side.'
Ernst nodded in agreement.
`Precisely. If on that side why not yours? We don't want any gaps to be found when ...' He stopped and looked at Lentsch hard.
`When the invasion comes?' Lentsch suggested. Ernst shook his head at the impossibility of the thought.
`When it's finished,' he offered lamely.
`Why not lower down?' Lentsch argued. `You could dig into the cliff more. Up there you wouldn't see so much. Besides,' he gave a wan smile, hoping to rekindle Ernst's goodwill, `it would ruin the view.'
Ernst attempted an unconvincing look of sympathy.
`I can see that. But digging into the cliff would take more men, more materials. It would take longer. I have to balance these things.'
Lentsch looked out in dismay. It would not simply spoil the house, it would break the spell woven around it. Suddenly the plane's engines cut out and in the silence he was standing by the French windows smoking a cigarette, listening to Isobel's clear laughter rising up from the beach. With luck he would be seeing her tonight. He tried to think of what he might say to her, how eager he should appear. He'd had a good three days in Paris, washing away the hold of her in as many nightclubs as one man could take, but once back home he could not wait to return. He had listened to his mother and sister, feeling increasingly awkward and irritated, as if they had no right to tell him of their hardships, the rationing, the bombing raids, the barely articulated feeling of gloom. He felt strangely unaffected by it, as if it had nothing to do with him. The war might ebb and flow across continents, but it hardly seemed to matter. Only Guernsey existed. Guernsey was the best place in the world.
The plane coughed, as if to remind him of Ernst's threat.
`Well, I shall put up a fight, I can promise you,' Lentsch told him vehemently. `There are plenty of other places to choose from. That's if it's necessary at all.'
Ernst tapped his briefcase as if he had the plans already under lock and key. `I understand how you feel, Major,' he said. `And if I lived there, I too would do everything in my power to keep it just so. But as it is ...'
So that was it. Ernst was beginning to flex his muscles. This was going to be how it was from now on, the army pushed aside in favour of those who held everything but their own prejudices in contempt. Lentsch tried to hold his ground
`As you say. Unfortunately there is no extra room.'
`In war,' he said simply, `people come and go.'
The plane slithered recklessly down the grass runway. For a moment Lentsch thought that they were going to crash into one of the Junkers parked at the far end. The brakes didn't seem to have any effect at all. Ernst, catching his look of horror, affected a blithe indifference.
`Happens all the time,' he shrugged. `They have to mow the grass extra close because it grows so fast overnight. Once a month a plane crashes.'
Ernst jumped down and sped off without another word. Lentsch hauled his baggage out and followed. On the roof of the heavily sandbagged terminal stood a sentry, stuck there with legs apart, like a decoration on a wedding cake. Below, in front of the car, waited Albert. Though in his late fifties when he had first started to work for him, Albert had possessed the wiry strength of someone twenty years younger. Now he was beginning to look his age, but his skin still retained that depth of colour that only a man who has spent his working life outside can obtain. Lentsch promised himself that this month he would get up the nerve to ask Albert to sit for him. He was dressed as awkwardly as usual: baggy brown jacket, woollen waistcoat and a pair of dress-suit trousers with a velvet stripe down the outside leg that had once belonged to his former employer. His blue beret was draped over his head like a three-egg omelette. Most men were expected to show due deference to their German masters and lifting one's cap, even raising it the slightest fraction, was considered a sufficient demonstration, but not Albert. Lentsch had never seen him without it, not even when he had roused him out of bed in the middle of the night. Zep was convinced the man was completely bald, but Lentsch wasn't so sure. A bald pate would not worry Albert unduly. It was a definite state, a fact of life, a badge of hard-won honour. A thin straggle of something blowing across the top, however, he would not appreciate, for like many men who feign indifference to their appearance, Albert was vain. One had only to look at the shine of his shoes or the fussy knot of his tie to know that. And anyway, as Lentsch had pointed out to Zep, he went to the barber's once a month.
Albert opened the door but made no attempt to help Lentsch with his luggage.
`I didn't expect to see you here,' Lentsch told him, as he laid his bags carefully on to the back seat. `Where's Wedel?'
Albert pointed to his stomach.
`The runs,' he said. `He went mushroom picking yesterday and came back with a basket of toadstools. I told him not to eat 'em but would he listen? "At home we eat all sorts," he boasted. He tried to get Mrs H. to have a few but I warned her off.' A smile of grim satisfaction crept over his face. `Been up all night. Bent double. He's better now though. Except for the squits.'
`You know.' Albert made an appropriate noise.
`Ah, yes. The squits.'
Albert coughed. `We all got something wrong with us these days. I've sprained my ankle and got this throat I can't get rid of, Marjorie's got the shingles and half the girls in Boots have been going in and out of the pox doctor's clinic faster than a spring tide. Well, they're not handling my prescriptions any more, I can tell you that.'
They drove off. As they turned out onto Forest Road Albert tugged at his beret, as if acknowledging the sentry's salute. It took Lentsch by surprise. Was he merely being insolent or did he see himself as a quasi-official now? He soon got his answer. A kilometre down the road the car started to edge steadily to the left. Lentsch put his hand on the wheel and eased it firmly over to the correct side.
`Sorry,' said Albert.
`It's quite all right,' said Lentsch.
`Habit of a lifetime,' Albert went on.
`But you couldn't drive before we came,' Lentsch reminded him.
`It's in the blood,' Albert countered. `Like the sea.'
`You couldn't swim either.'
`Nor can I still.'
They turned onto the Rue des Escaliers. A short journey down and then out along the cliff. Five minutes at the most. He wondered if she would be there to greet him. He looked over at Albert's face to see if he could detect her presence. Nothing.
`I have brought you something,' he said. `Here.'
He fished out a small packet, wrapped in tissue paper. Albert took a hand from the wheel and held the parcel up to his ear, shaking it gently. There was a metallic rattling inside.
`What is it, then?' he asked, easing it into his jacket pocket. `Gramophone needles?'
Lentsch shook his head. `Razor blades. Fifty. All new.'
`Fifty?' Albert was pleased. He rubbed his face in anticipation of his first fresh shave of the month. `That should keep me going for a bit.'
Lentsch was grateful he did not say `until it's all over' or `until we throw you out', though he knew that such thoughts must be on his mind. As a trusted member of the household Albert listened to the BBC as often as they did, standing at the back of the living room, hanging on to every word booming out of the huge radiogram. That was one of the reasons why he was in such demand. With his sources Albert had an invitation to tea at someone's house every day of the week.
The car bumped down the narrow road, high hedges and ferns on either side. Then, as it began to climb again, Albert put his foot down and they were out on top, out along the narrow pitted track, past the high gates and onto the thinly gravelled drive, moving up through the lime trees to the Villa's front entrance with its white pillars and grey stone steps. Passing the pebble-dash lodge Lentsch could see a bicycle propped up against a half-stacked pile of wood under the porch by the front door. Smoke rose up from the building's squat brick chimney. Four o'clock in the afternoon and Marjorie had lit her fire already. She would have to be reminded once again about the need to conserve fuel, though he understand well enough these unnecessary acts of defiance. Being forced to swap places with her caretaker was not something a woman of Mrs Hallivand's background forgot lightly.
Like many houses looking out to sea, the rooms were set in reverse order, the utility rooms, kitchen, storerooms, washrooms placed at the front, while the main rooms, the library, the dining room and the drawing room, were found at the back. Dividing the two were the stairs to the cellar, the main staircase leading to the first and Second floors and the billiard room. The house was quiet. It was obvious there was no one there to greet him. He had expected someone, Zep or Molly. Even Marjorie could have put in an appearance. Lentsch felt cheated. He had brought gifts for them all, three hours spent in Granville hunting for presents he knew they would appreciate — dance records for Isobel, a twelve-year-old Armagnac for the Captain, a pair of silk stockings for Molly and a traveller's set of Guernsey's most famous author, Victor Hugo, for Marjorie. Dropping his bags on the tiled floor he strode down the hall and flung open the doors to the drawing room, The armchairs and sofa had been shoved back against the walls. The radiogram from his study had been moved in, his box of seventy-eights on the floor beside it. So this is what they got up whenever he left. Albert stood in the doorway, trying to hide an expression of guilt.
`You should have cleared up,' Lentsch told him. `I don't mind parties while I'm away, but ...'
Albert limped in and in a slow, deliberate move, pushed the sofa further back.
`It's for you,' he said. `They're planning a little get-together. I wasn't meant to do this until later, but I promised Mrs H. I'd go to town before the shops shut. She's got some shoes that need mending.'
Lentsch felt his spirits soar, though he tried not to show it.
`Who's coming? Do you know?'
`The usual crowd. The Captain's organized it all — he and Miss Molly.'
Lentsch walked into the hall, picked up the receiver and gave the number.
`You're not meant to know,' Albert warned. `If the Captain finds out I've let on ...'
`Don't worry. I ...' One ring and someone had lifted the phone. He turned quickly, waving Albert away.
She'd been waiting for him! He kept his voice as light as possible.
`Isobel! It's me. I have just returned. I was hoping to see you. Tonight, perhaps?'
She spoke quickly. `I can't, not tonight. I'm sorry.'
Lentsch smiled to himself. He could imagine her, standing over that glass-topped table in the drawing room, looking round to see if her father was in earshot. Soon she would pick up the receiver and move over to the staircase. It was where she loved to sit, talking, reading, painting her toenails. Her hair would be bunched back, her legs bare. He tried to sound disappointed.
`Never mind. I am sure I can find something else to do, down at the club perhaps.'
There was a silence at the other end.
`Isobel. Is everything all right?'
`Yes. Quite all right.'
`Your father — is he well?'
`Yes. He's dining with Major Ernst tonight.' She lowered her voice. `Across the road.'
`In the Major's house.
`And you will be all alone?'
`No, no. Some friends are coming over.' She was finding it difficult to lie, bless her.
`And did you miss me?' he asked.
`Not as much as I had thought.'
Lentsch closed his eyes. It wasn't the reply he had expected. He didn't know what to say.
`Oh. I had hoped ...'
She corrected herself.
`I did miss you. It was just I did other things.'
He teased her some more.
`If I cannot see you tonight, how about tomorrow? Perhaps we could go riding. I have not taken Wotan out for weeks now.'
`Wotan. Such a ridiculous name for a horse.'
`To your ears, perhaps. For us it is a strong name, a strong name for a strong horse.'
`A beautiful horse,' she agreed.
`I thought I might take him over to Vazon and stretch his legs. Why don't you come too? I could call for you in the morning.'
`Don't you have work to do?'
`You shouldn't neglect your duties, Gerhard, even for your horse.'
`That is exactly who I should neglect my duties for. My horse is the second most important creature on this island.'
Lentsch could hear her laugh despite herself.
`Father will be gone all afternoon,' she relented. `Call for me then. Look, I've got to go.'
`Oh. Until tomorrow, then.' He shouted the last sentence to an empty line.
Albert was waiting in the drawing room, pretending not have heard a single word. Lentsch put his hand round his shoulders and walked him through onto the veranda.
`Let us walk around the garden,' he suggested. `Have you time? How are the moles?'
`Three while you were away.'
`Three? Pretty soon you will be able to make a coat,' Lentsch joked.
`Pretty soon we'll be eating them. Our rations have been put back again. Is it any wonder we're all dropping like ninepins. And we had another blessed break-in last night.'
`Another? The third in how many months? Have you told your nephew?'
`What can he do? It's not us locals, Major. It's the foreigns. They're all over the place.'
There were sixteen thousand foreign labourers on the island, part of His vast army of slave workers, men stolen from the captured lands of the continent and put to work for the Organisation Todt; in Germany they worked in factories, built roads, mended railways. Here they were building the Western Wall. The whole area around the old quarter of St Peter Port was filled with them; Spaniards, Poles, Russians, and a huge contingent of North Africans. The Kasbah, Albert called it.
The two men walked to the end of the lawn and looked out. The boat had gone now, and the bay's still emptiness accentuated its deep beauty. Since they had placed even further restrictions on civilian movement there were parts of the island which grew more sacred by the day. Lentsch shivered. Ernst's threat came ringing back at him. He pointed across to the squat bulge of concrete billowing out of the cliff on the other side.
`The artillery want to get their hands on this,' he blurted out. `Another one of those somewhere down here. Can you imagine it, with paths and cables and bunkers for the men. Not to mention the noise.' He held his hands over his ears. `It's Major Ernst, you know.'
`The house. He wants to live here too.'
`But there's no room. Not with you and the Captain and everyone.'
Everyone was Bohde, the island's censor. Albert did not like Bohde ever since he had caught him in the fruit garden stuffing himself full of loganberries.
`He will try and get rid of one of us,' Lentsch explained. `Make me look not capable in administration, or the Captain's security procedures, perhaps. Something like that. Still, for the Villa, for you and Marjorie, it might be for the best. That way, there would be no new battery. Of that you could be sure.'
Albert did not know what to say. Like Lentsch he saw himself as the Villa's guardian rather than its occupier. Change, however, was never welcome. Lentsch tried to reassure him.
`Don't worry. It might not come to it. But the lower part of the garden, after the roses, where we play the polo. This I think we should dig up and make for some potatoes and vegetables. That way the garden would not look so ...' He searched for the correct word.
`English?' Albert ventured.
`Privileged,' Lentsch countered. `I'll get Helmut to start as soon as he's back on his feet.'
Lentsch turned and they started back to the house.
`It's good to be back, Albert. Good to see Saints Bay again and the house. And you, of course.' He paused for a moment, unsure of how to continue. `Things back home are not so good. My mother and sister are very much afraid. Bombs, you know. We did not expect it in Germany.'
`On homes and churches. We did not expect it.'
`We call them Meier raids, on account of Goering's boast. "If an enemy bomber reaches the Ruhr, you can call me Meier!" We have Meier raids every day now. Not much of a joke, Albert. Not for my mother. Not for anyone.'
`No. I can see that. Still ...'
`We only have ourselves to blame, you're thinking?'
`Not you personally, Major. I've never thought that.'
`But as a people?'
`Well, I'd have to, wouldn't I? We were all getting along fine before all this. Still, I don't wish any harm on anybody.'
Lentsch was silent for a moment. That wasn't true at all. Everyone wasn't getting along fine before all this. There was a time when everything had been terrible. And then, the soul of a nation had been woken, practically overnight. It had been marvellous! How could he explain?
`And you,' he asked suddenly. `You are well? Have you heard from your daughter?'
Albert shook his head. `I was hoping I might have got a postcard through the Red Cross. Last week was the anniversary of Mum's death.' He began to cough. Lentsch looked down in case the old man was trying to hide his tears.
`I'm sorry,' he said. `I did not know.' Albert, shaking his head, dismissed his condolences.
`She would have hated to see the place as it is now. All the guns and barbed wire. But I do miss our girl. I still don't know if I did the right thing, staying put while she left with the rest of the evacuees. She was late in our life, was Kitty. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever see her again.'
Lentsch was anxious to cheer him up. If there was going to be a party tonight he didn't want Albert's long face spoiling it.
`Course you will, my good chap,' he breezed, clapping him on the back. `The way things are going it might end quicker than any of us think.' Changing the subject, he added, `Has anything else happened while I was away? The Bloody Boiler behaving?'
`The Bloody Boiler's been going since early this morning, Major.'
`Excellent. I shall go for a bathe, take a bath and, if the weather holds, maybe sketch for an hour.' He pointed to the Martello tower on the opposite side.
`Same view?' Albert asked.
`That's just it, my friend. It is never the same.'
Albert waited as he disappeared into the house, emerging a few minutes later in civilian clothes with a towel under his arm. He watched as Lentsch ran down the path, his body hidden by the tall ferns. It was the one thing he could not understand about the Germans, this obsession with fitness and the outdoors. The Major had reached the shoreline and was walking along the rim of the bay in his bare feet, his shoes hanging round his neck. Climbing onto the jetty he stripped off and dived in. He might not be blond and six foot tall, but he was lean and fit and held himself like a man with strong blood in his veins.
A car spat up the drive, brakes, doors and horn sounding all at once. Albert recognized the mixture. Captain Zepernick, driving with the top down. `Only a plague of locusts, a forty-degree frost, or the certainty of sexual intercourse in broad daylight will make me put up the hood,' the Captain had once joked. From the hurried demand of his footsteps coming down the red-tiled hall, Albert could tell he was not joking now.
`He has returned?' he demanded, stepping out onto the veranda.
Albert pointed to the sea.
`Did he see?'
Albert nodded. The Captain cursed in German. It was not Donner or Blitzen or that other word which Miss Molly once whispered in his ear in front of the whole company trying to embarrass him, but it was a swear word nevertheless. Albert wished that one time one of them would say Donner und Blitzen, if only to satisfy himself that those words were real words used by real Germans in times of anger and frustration, but though he had cooked their meals, served their drinks, ironed their shirts and stood by their side for the past two years listening to them carrying on like spoilt little madams, he had never heard one of them say it, not even when the weather was there to give them their cue. It annoyed him that they should be so wilful and choose not to do what was required.
The Captain had reached the beach and was calling out to the Major as he tried to run over the shifting shingle.
`That's right, me old china,' Albert said, looking down. `You tell him. Donner and Blitzen. Double donner and double blitzen, with the best porcelain whistling round your ears.'
Down on the jetty the two had met up. The Major stood quite still, his towel hanging limply at his side. He would be frozen when he got back. A hot bath with a glass of brandy on the side would be what was required. Albert turned back, shaking his head. Major or no Major, he could at least cover himself up.
Posted January 11, 2000
In WW II Gurensey, the only British territory to be occupied by Germany, men and women of both sides, discover it is not always easy to even know right from wrong. Best-intended actions sometime end in horror. Romance and murder accent the days of scarcity and fear during wartime. The character of Guernesey is beautifully presented and is central to this interesting story.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 16, 2000
Bought this because it was reviewed by NYTimes Book Review, was recommended by a non-chain bookseller and had an interesting dust jacket. The story concerns the occupation of a Channel Island, Guernsey, by the Germans in World War II. The young girls on the Island fraternize with the Germans, and one of them is murdered. The Island's police inspector and one of the 'decent' German officers collaborate to solve the murder. The story is gripping, details of island life interesting and the problems of not only lying with the enemy but just living with the enemy are beautifully managed by the author. What I don't understand about this book is the lack of editing and proofreading. There are repetitions of words (not for effect) and weird sentences that make me think the manuscript was sent through a spell checker but an editor never READ it for mistakes. Was no one else bothered by this? Despite these problems, I may recommend it to our reading group. We recently finished 'Ingenious Pain,' by Andrew Miller and loved it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.