cover image My Father’s House

My Father’s House

Joseph O’Connor. Europa, $28 (440p) ISBN 978-1-60945-835-5

The riveting latest from O’Connor (Shadowplay), the first in a trilogy, chronicles the meticulous planning and execution of the escape of hundreds of Allied prisoners and Jews hiding in Vatican City during WWII. It’s December 1943 and Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty and seven associates who refer to themselves as “the Choir” have exploited the Vatican’s sovereignty as a minuscule neutral state to hide refugees from the Nazi occupation of Rome in numerous abandoned sheds, bombed-out buildings, and tunnels. Though they undertake their work with extreme caution—using aliases and forged IDs, referring to their charges in formal communications as “Books” and the hiding places as “Shelves”—they have aroused the suspicion of brutal Gestapo Obersturmbannführer Paul Hauptmann, whose efforts to apprehend the fugitives come to a head early Christmas morning. Through wonderfully developed and varied characters, O’Connor conveys both the painful privations of life during wartime and the nobility of the Choir’s goals, and the unfolding of O’Flaherty’s marathon of undercover subterfuges that lay the groundwork for their mission in the middle section is a storytelling tour de force. This is top-drawer WWII fiction. Agent: Isobel Dixon, Blake Friedmann. (Jan.)