A truly superb character-driven, action-packed novel that brings history alive and challenges the reader to think about life in the Third Reich.
Sarah is 15 when her mother is shot dead at a roadblock. She forces herself to run but she has nowhere to go. She’s an orphan. A Jew in Nazi Germany. Fortunately, with her blonde hair and blue eyes she looks like a perfect Aryan. A chance encounter with a British secret agent shortly after her mother’s death, opens a new door – an opportunity to take on the Nazis by becoming a teenage spy. Sarah doesn’t care about the risks to her life but, if she is going to succeed, she needs to become everything she hates. She must enrol at a Nazi boarding school and convince the girls she is one of them. She must become a monster to win the friendship of the daughter of one of Hitler’s most important scientists. And that is only the first step to fulfilling her mission.
It’s hard to know where to start with a review of this book. Do I focus on the near perfect characterisation and the way author, Matt Killeen, manages to create a convincing lead with all the skills required to take on a seemingly impossible task? Or do I rave about the exciting action-packed scenes that could give a Hollywood blockbuster a run for its money? Alternatively, perhaps I should talk about the gripping plot that makes this book near impossible to put down?
Orphan, Monster, Spy is, however, more than a truly superb character-driven action-packed novel: it also brings history alive and challenges the reader to think about life in the Third Reich. Some of this is central to the story itself. This includes the indoctrination at the slightly shambolic Nazi school and a particularly chilling sub-plot set around Nazi Klaus Foch and his daughter Gretel. Other insights are provided through a clever series of flashbacks that give us glimpses into Sarah’s life as a Jew during Nazi occupation. The details in these scenes are immensely powerful – Sarah’s mother’s attempts to lose herself through alcohol, the way Sarah scavenges for food at night, the cameo from the Jewish butcher.
For writers (or aspiring writers), there is another reason to read this book – the truly incredible ‘voice’. Written in third person from Sarah’s perspective, the voice in this book is about as good as it’s possible to get – powerful, addictive, and totally believable. I was particularly impressed by the way the text seamlessly moves between fast-moving action and Sarah’s innermost thoughts. The ongoing analogy of her mental box of horrors is especially impressive.
If you enjoyed this, you might want to read the second novel about Sarah: Devil, Darling, Spy by Matt Killeen was released in March. If you’re looking for contemporary story that deals with similar issues, you might want to read The Night of the Party by Tracey Mathias. Alternatively, if you’re a fan of historical fiction that makes you think about issues why not try Jiddy Vardy by Ruth Estevez.
Publication Date: March 2018
Author: Matt Killeen