Wednesday, April 18, 2012

THE LAVENDER KEEPER - reviewed by The Bookman on Radio NZ National today

Fiona McIntosh – Penguin Australia $37

This is a big novel running to 460 plus pages from a talented Australian author whom I guess it would be fair to call a cross-genre writer because in addition to two historical novels, of which this is one, she has also written seven fantasy novels, a children’s novel and two crime fiction titles. She was originally a travel writer but after attending a summer fiction writing course by Bryce Courtenay a few years back she became a full-time author and has not looked back.

I said this was an historical novel and I guess it is because it is set in London, Provence and Paris during World War Two, it opens in July 1942 and ends with the liberation of Paris in 1945. In addition to being a war story it is also a love story. It is unlikely I would have chosen this story to read had I picked it up in a bookshop as it appears to be a bit soppy but in the end the blend of war story with plenty of action and intrigue along with the romantic angle won me over and I quite enjoyed it. I note at the end of the book an advance advertisement for a sequel, Luc’s Promise, which it says is the “dramatic conclusion to the romantic adventure The Lavender Keeper” is coming soon. I expect that means next year.

So what is the book about? Part one opens in Provence in 1942 when we meet Luc Bonet a lavender farmer. He is the adopted son of a well-off Jewish family and when they are arrested and deported to a concentration camp and the lavender farm is seized he joins the Resistance, the Maquis, living in the mountains and sabotaging German forces and supplies.
Then in part two of the book we meet Lisette Forester in her mid-20’s living in London since 1938 but a French National and talented linguist; she is recruited by the British to infiltrate the German regime in Paris . She is dropped in to the south of France where Luc, now with another name, meets her, she also has another name, and helps her get to Paris. This is where the love interest enters as they are both immediately attracted to each other although they have to put that aside meantime as their goal is to assist in freeing France from the Germans. Needless to say their paths continue to cross over the remaining war years.
It is a tough story at times with Gestapo brutality on French citizenry and in particular of course the Jewish population, this is partly set-off by the romance and inevitable love triangle that develops. Lisette has been sent to Paris specifically to inveigle herself into the life of a high ranking German officer. He is 15 years her senior, single, handsome and charming and when she eventually manages to meet up and become involved she finds herself, surprisingly and alarmingly attracted to him.
The details and settings of the time and place are well done, the author clearly knows France, and Paris in particular, very well and has done her research on the German occupation thoroughly.
It is largely an entertaining story, the narrative is fast-paced and for a big book it is quite a quick read but dare I risk being accused of being sexist here, and say that it is more likely to appeal to women than men. That aside I’m sure readers will be lining up for the sequel.
It is worth noting too that Penguin Books had to put a reprint in place before the book was published which means it was very well received by booksellers.

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