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The Sixth Lamentation by William Brodrick

"When I was a boy, my mother used to say that hell was the painless place where everything has been forgotten." ...
"Because there's no love. That's why there is no pain." ...
"Then what's heaven?"
"An inferno where you burn, remembering all that should be remembered."

from page 182

The Sixth Lamentation is William Brodrick's debut novel and the first in a series starring Father Anselm, a monk who resides at Larkwood Priory in England. Brodrick himself is a former Augustinian friar who now lives in Europe with his wife and kids. His debut novel is an engrossing, page turning, twisty mystery.

In the wake of the German occupation of France during the second world war, a group of students calling themselves The Round Table smuggled Jewish children out of Paris to a French monastery in the countryside. Here the children were hidden in the monastery's sister house's orphanage until identity documents for the children could be fabricated on the monastery's press. Then the children were safely smuggled into Switzerland. The Round Table was able save a small number of children before a Nazi named Schwermann and a French collaborator named Brionne broke The Round Table, arresting every member and shipping them off like cattle to the concentration camps where all but one perished. After the war ended Schwermann and Brionne fled Paris for the same monastery that hid the children The Round Table saved. Inexplicably both men receive sanctuary there until they too are smuggled out of the country and into England under false identities.

Half a century later Schwermann's true identity has been revealed and exposed to the world by a young French reporter, who is also the grandnephew of the man who once led The Round Table. The reporter, working with other organizations to collect evidence to bring Schwermann to trial, is determined to see that the old Nazi answers for his crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, the key witness, Brionne, has disappeared and cannot be traced under his new identity. In the wake of his crimes being brought to light, Schwermann seeks and receives reluctant sanctuary from Larkwood Priory where Father Anselm, a former London attorney, lives. Immediately a firestorm erupts in the media while the police, the monastery, the Church in Rome and the French reporter scramble to collect their evidence. Father Anselm, in turn, is tasked by the Church in Rome to discover just why the French monastery aided in the escape of two war criminals. Father Anselm then embarks upon a journey to resolve this elusive mystery in which most participants have long since died and taken their secrets to the grave.

Meanwhile, Agnes, the lone survivor of The Round Table, glimpses Schwermann on TV when his identity is brought to light. The revelation takes her back to that long ago, dangerous and traumatic time that forever changed the course of her life and that of her children and grandchildren. Recently diagnosed with a terminal illness, Agnes determines to set down her history, from birth to her teenage years and her activities during the war years, in notebooks for her granddaughter, Lucy. The notebooks reveal to Lucy why her grandmother is the way she is and ensure that the members of The Round Table, Agnes' beloved friends, will not be forgotten when she dies. At the heart of The Round Table is young love and a family secret that ends in the betrayal that led to unspeakable tragedy.

At its heart, this is a historical mystery in which nothing and no one is what they appear to be once its serpentine twists and turns have been followed to a heart breaking conclusion. This first time novelist can turn a phrase, although at times it seems the language is opaquely ambiguous and puzzling especially when it comes to the lack of explanation of elements related to the church, specifically monastic life. Brodrick is shocking and brutal when it comes to plot and character twists. The story moves quickly while it alternates between Father Anselm's perspective and the perspective of Lucy and Agnes. In the end when the truth of what actually happened is exposed, the resolution is far more complicated and sad because of the nature of the stunning betrayal at the root of the dismantling of The Round Table. It is a betrayal that has had far reaching consequences and that has twisted entire lives and generations of two families that are shattered again when it is finally revealed.

Mystery lovers as well as historical fiction lovers will devour this book. It is coming soon to the shelves here at the library.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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