A Letter from Munich (Black Rose Writing, 2020)
By Meg Lelvis
A wartime romance. Forbidden love. Buried secrets.
Retired Chicago detective Jack Bailey has a “missing persons” case that’s a doozie. It’s also intensely personal. Stretching back to World War II, the case involves a cryptic one-page letter to his late father. The family finds it when sorting through Dad’s belongings after his death. Can it shed any light on who he was and why?
When Jack’s former partner’s ailing wife is unable to travel, “Sherk” invites Jack to join him for a visit to the old family homestead in Germany. Can they find his father’s “wartime fraulein?
Arriving in Germany, Jack wonders what an elderly sister of her dad’s German sweetheart can reveal about his “old man”? Renate has been sworn to secrecy about her growing up years in the village of Dachau. But what’s her big secret? Why does it still matter? Are some family skeletons best kept in the closet?
Skillfully navigation between past and present, this gripping, engaging story takes off in Chapter 10. It’s set near Munich, in the 1930s. Looking back, Renate narrates how they “missed the signs.” Untermensch. Silence and secrets. Vaguely becoming “aware of doom around the edges of our lives.” The Dachau Death Train. How knowing the difference between facts and opinions can get you killed. The power of propaganda.
Superlative writing undergirds a riveting story revealing the effects of the war on ordinary Germans and how criminals are individuals, not a whole country.
The POV/narration volleys back and forth between Jack and Renate, younger sister of his dad’s German sweetheart. This might be confusing in the hands of a lesser talent. But this author blends both perspectives into a seamless tapestry of sights, sounds, tastes, color, history, reminiscence, and a poignant loss of innocence.
There’s also Belfast. And an IRA car bombing.
A Letter to Munich is a graphic reminder of the terrible price war extracts from both soldiers and civilians. It’s a powerful testament to the will to survive and love, and how hope shines bright even in the midst of indescribable evil. It also raises the ultimate question:
“What is the boundary between a person’s right to the truth and the right to keep painful secrets?”
This well-crafted, briskly paced story draws readers in quickly and keeps them guessing until the final page. Anyone who enjoys a fascinating blend of historical fiction, mystery, and romance will enjoy this book.