Saturday, September 24, 2016

Book Review: The Spyglass File by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Cover
with author's permission
I was taking a break from my blog having just completed a series of posts about the wives and children of James Franklin Jollett. No new ideas were coming to me, so I was grateful when Nathan Dylan Goodwin contacted me offering a free copy of his latest novel in exchange for a review. It is a genealogy mystery. Mysteries are my favorite genre, so add to that some genealogy – how bad could it be?

The Spyglass File is a story within a story, mystery within a mystery. It begins with a woman named Barbara hiring Mortimer Farrier, a forensic genealogist, to research her birth parents. Apparently Mortimer is suffering a crisis of confidence in his research skills, but because he too was adopted and knows how consuming the curiosity about one’s past can be, he agrees to take the job. That is the framework for one story in this novel.

The central story though is that of Elsie Finch, Barbara’s birth mother. A bride and World War II war widow at almost the same time, Elsie decides to create a new life for herself. She joins the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, where her ability to speak and understand German lands her in the Y-Service listening in on conversations among German pilots. It does not take her long to realize her value to the war effort. Thus her new life with so much purpose is one she cannot give up when she finds herself pregnant.

Mortimer’s efforts to learn more about Elsie and the identity of the father of the baby she gave up for adoption become more complicated when he learns of the existence of the Spyglass File. There are people who will do everything to make sure he does not get to the truth. [Insert spooky music!]

One of the fun features of the book is the structure itself. Chapters alternate between Elsie’s story in the 1940s and Mortimer’s research in the present. Family historians like me will identify with Mortimer at work checking Ancestry dot com and doing the harder work of genealogy: getting in the car and actually visiting people, museums, libraries, archives, memorials, and cemeteries. When Mortimer finds a news clipping or photo in one chapter, we get to see the events leading to it decades before in another chapter. I like mental hop-scotch; I really do.

What I enjoyed the most – aside from the plot itself and the compelling characters – is the historical accuracy. So often war stories are about the soldiers, but in this one, the focus is on the women. Some of the women in the story are real, like WAAF officers Jean Conan Doyle and Aileen Clayton. The intensity of eavesdropping on the enemy, juggling daily routines with a mad dash to the Anderson shelter, escaping war work with drinks and dancing – this is the World War II England that Goodwin paints so well. One scene in particular describes an air battle between British and German pilots with such detail that I felt I was watching the World War II version of Top Gun.

Honestly, I was prepared to dislike this book figuring Goodwin must be a brand new writer if he’s counting on ME! But he’s not that new. It turns out The Spyglass File is book #5 in a series of genealogy mysteries. Plus he has written some non-fiction books on the history of his hometown of Hastings, East Sussex, England.

Nathan sent me a freebie. I’ll buy the others. After all, I need to know: Is Mortimer ever going to find his own birth parents?

Disclosure: While I was given this book for free in exchange for a review, I was under no obligation to like it. The opinions expressed are my honest views. I will not be receiving any commission on sales of books by this author.

Wendy
© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

11 comments:

  1. Sounds fascinating, might have to check out the series.

    Betty

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  2. Always interested in a good mystery, but add genealogy to the plot and it sounds really, really fascinating. Thanks for calling this author to our attention!

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    1. I see Randy Seavers has done a review too.

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  3. It sounds like a good book! I love these sorts of books.

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    1. It's funny but I usually go straight for the traditional crime novels - murders, kidnapping, that sort of thing. I need the nudge to step outside my usual boundaries.

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  4. It didn't click with me at first, but I've read his books, including this one! My husband found his books first and since we both love genealogy and mysteries, his books really hit the mark. I think he's a really good author.

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    1. Now I'm more determined to read the others in the series.

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  5. First of all, I have missed your blogging and secondly, I will check out this series. Sounds like I would enjoy it very much.

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    1. Aw Carol, that's so sweet. I hope you will enjoy the book as much as I did.

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  6. Thanks for this review, Wendy. I am fascinated by anything WWII and that era and I enjoy a good mystery. I'm sorry that my local library does not have any of Goodwin's books. I'll keep an eye out for it.

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