Title: The London House
Author: Katherine Reay
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: November 2nd, 2021 (Harper Muse)
Synopsis: Caroline Payne thinks it’s just another day of work until she receives a call from Mat Hammond, an old college friend and historian. But pleasantries are cut short. Mat has uncovered a scandalous secret kept buried for decades: In World War II, Caroline’s British great-aunt betrayed family and country to marry her German lover.
Determined to find answers and save her family’s reputation, Caroline flies to her family’s ancestral home in London. She and Mat discover diaries and letters that reveal her grandmother and great-aunt were known as the “Waite sisters.” Popular and witty, they came of age during the interwar years, a time of peace and luxury filled with dances, jazz clubs, and romance. The buoyant tone of the correspondence soon yields to sadder revelations as the sisters grow apart, and one leaves home for the glittering fashion scene of Paris, despite rumblings of a coming world war.
Each letter brings more questions. Was Caroline’s great-aunt actually a traitor and Nazi collaborator, or is there a more complex truth buried in the past? Together, Caroline and Mat uncover stories of spies and secrets, love and heartbreak, and the events of one fateful evening in 1941 that changed everything.
In this rich historical novel from award-winning author Katherine Reay, a young woman is tasked with writing the next chapter of her family’s story. But Caroline must choose whether to embrace a love of her own and proceed with caution if her family’s decades-old wounds are to heal without tearing them even further apart.
Thank you to the publisher, Harper Muse, and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Caroline Payne has always been told that her great-aunt Caro, whom she is named after, died in childhood of polio. But when Mat Hammond, an old college friend contacts her about some information he has found when researching an article, scandalous family secrets are uncovered. Mat has found letters that claim that Caro was a traitor to her country and defected during World War II with a Nazi. Caroline is convinced there is more to the story and she travels to her family’s ancestral London home where she finds, among her grandmother’s possessions, diaries and letters from her twin sister Caro. As each letter reveals another piece of a long buried past, more and more questions arise too and Caroline and Mat hasten to put together the pieces and discover the truth – but will the truth be better or worse than what they suspect?
I loved how this book used letters and journals to delve into the past in what is clearly a very well researched story. The epistolary structure is one I really enjoy seeing in historical fiction since it makes the story feel that much more authentic. The letters that Caro wrote to Margo beautifully portray the bond between the twin sisters and how, even after the War changed everything, how much impact it had on their family through the generations. I really enjoyed following their story and piecing together the clues to find out what really happened to Caro. Apart from the WWII era, this book also talks a lot about the fashion industry in Paris at the time which was fun to read about and look up the many designs mentioned.
The main reason why I didn’t enjoy this book more was the narration style. The story is narrated from Caroline’s perspective, meaning we get the facts in the order her research proceeds which is not in chronological order and is just plain confusing. She goes through the letters and the diary entries out of order for seemingly no reason and it gives away too much too early and the suspense of the story is gone. If ever a book needed proper dual timelines, it would be this one, seeing as it has the perfect type of story line for it too. I also felt that the pacing was a little slow and the first several chapters were very boring for me since I had a hard time connecting with the present day characters and they didn’t seem that interesting either when compared to the story in the past being revealed.
Overall, this was an intriguing read and I liked the story and writing style even if some other things didn’t really work for me. I’m looking forward to checking out more books by this author. This is a book that WWII fans are sure to enjoy and I would definitely recommend it!
The London House releases on November 2nd, 2021.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
All quotes in this review were taken from an advance reader’s edition and may differ from the final version of the book.