William Brodrick, Author . Viking $24.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-670-03191-7

Broderick's masterful first novel is characterized by the publisher as a "literary thriller," as though it needed that label to attract and galvanize buyers. But the book defies genre pigeonholing; it is simply storytelling at its finest. Amid the rush and tumble of a stirring plot, the author's eloquent prose brings power to the tangled and tragic history on which the story is based. After decades in hiding, Eduard Schwermann, a suspected Nazi war criminal, claims sanctuary at Larkwood Priory, a modern-day monastery in the English countryside. Ordered to investigate the 50-year-old mystery of Schwermann's crime, Father Anselm, an ex-lawyer turned monk, is soon immersed in the murky history of the Nazi occupation of Paris and the deportation of French Jews to the death camps. He researches the life of a heroic French resistance fighter and attempts to answer questions about treachery, both modern and historical. In a second narrative thread, the aging Agnes Embleton sees a wartime-era picture of Schwermann on television and is cast back to occupied Paris and her role in the Round Table, a group of students who attempted to rescue thousands of Jewish children. Agnes suffers from a degenerative ailment called motor neuron disease and depends on her 25-year-old granddaughter, Lucy, for physical assistance. Lucy has also become a repository of the aging woman's memories. Nothing is as it seems, and the truth is revealed layer by layer as the past gives up its secrets to the persistent Father Anselm and the devoted Lucy. Even in the smallest moments, Broderick's writing is beautiful: "They walked on, the light swiftly thinning, the mad swooping of distant birds suddenly ended, leaving the sky bare, unscored." The complex nature of the plot demands concentration, but the effort pays off handsomely as one is swept into this heartrending story. (July 14)

Forecast:A natural handsell to fans of both thrillers and plot-driven literary fiction, Broderick's novel may also benefit from his intriguing life story: he was an Augustinian friar before leaving the order to become a lawyer, and the events of the novel are loosely based on the experiences of his mother during the war.

Reviewed on: 05/26/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
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