I’m not sure why but I shy away from historical fiction. Though that’s probably an understatement. If I start reading a blurb and see reference to World Wars I or II or indeed anything pre-20th century I leap away as if it’s coronavirus-laden. I do, however, seem to make an exception for books unfolding in multiple timeframes. (ie. the ‘then’ and the now).
Very weirdly, with Inheritance of Secrets by Sonya Bates I had read THREE books about World War II (including concentration camps and refugees), all within a week or two of each other. Obviously I didn’t plan it that way; it was just a weird coincidence that three Australian books were coming out at once, partially set at the same time.
Inheritance of Secrets
by Sonya Bates
Source: Harper Collins
Genres: Historical Fiction, General Fiction
Juliet's elderly grandparents are killed in their Adelaide home. Who would commit such a heinous crime - and why? The only clue is her grandfather Karl's missing signet ring.
When Juliet's estranged sister, Lily, returns in fear for her life, Juliet suspects something far more sinister than a simple break-in gone wrong. Before Juliet can get any answers, Lily vanishes once more.
What secrets did Karl Weiss have that could have led to his murder? A German soldier who migrated to Adelaide, Juliet knew Karl as a loving grandfather. Is it possible he was a war criminal? While attempting to find out, Juliet uncovers some disturbing secrets from WWII Germany that will put both her and her sister's lives in danger
Thankfully all of the recently-read books have had a different focus. Natasha Lester’s The Paris Secret was more about romance and lost love; Suzanne Leal’s The Deceptions reflected on ‘the things we do to survive’; and Inheritance of Secrets is more about past lives coming to haunt us. Even if they’re not our own.
There’s an underlying theme of secrets, family relationships and their legacies in all three however.
Here, our narrators are Karl and Juliet. I really liked Juliet. Bates underplays her success a little but we learn she’s a relatively successful author and her life is going along smoothly until the murder of her grandparents.
It seems obvious to Juliet that her older delinquent-like sister Lily is involved as she’d been asking for money just before their deaths.
I enjoyed Juliet’s reflection on her childhood and her relationship with her sister, mother and grandparents. In many ways she’s forced to re-enact that transition to adulthood in which you start to separate your relationship with your family members (and theirs with you) from them. You realise they have their own lives and they’re impacted by things that have nothing to do with you.
Bates intersperses Juliet’s story with that of her grandfather’s. We meet Karl intermittently. Just before he goes to war, as he’s farewelling his beloved Grete. It’s 1943 and she’s cynical about Hitler’s messages of success but on his 18th birthday Karl is eager to get away and do his bit.
We next meet him in 1948. He’s been a prisoner of war and newly released, trying to find his parents and Grete. It’s then he meets an old friend Hans and is convinced to migrate to Australia for a better life.
I enjoyed the scenes on board the ship travelling to Australia. There was less emphasis in other recently-read books about the process of immigration and resettlement. I was reminded of Suitcase of Dreams by Tania Blanchard which spends some time with newly arrived immigrants in resettlement ‘camps’. Part of me actually wanted to learn a little more about Karl’s early years here and how he morphed into a successful owner of a chain of bakeries. But I realise, of course, this is the story of his murder and that of his wife.
In fact I kept (and continue to keep) forgetting this is actually a murder mystery. It is—of course—and the book is centred around Juliet trying to discover who killed her grandparents, and why. But in many ways (tragically) their murder and their lives, are really just a small part of a much bigger story.
Inheritance of Secrets by Sonya Bates will be published in Australia by Harper Collins and available from 20 April 2020.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.