A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal
This award-winning (Carnegie Medal) novel is a carefully written novel, intertwining two related stories from different time periods.
One story is the tale of two British-trained agents of the Dutch Resistance in WWII, dropped behind enemy lines in 1944 (just as Operation Market-Garden is about to launch). Both are given codenames from British rivers - Tamar is the leader, an experienced agent returning to Europe (and his former area of operation) to establish control of fractured resistance groups; Dart is his best friend, a wireless operator on his first mission.
The second story eventually centers around a fifteen-year-old girl in modern Britain, trying to understand why her father has disappeared, and then why her beloved grandfather commits suicide and leaves her a strange package. The girl's name is also Tamar...
The WWII tale benefits greatly from the author's interviews with a friend who served in the Dutch Resistance, and the story brings out the strange mix of terror and boredom which was the life of an agent in the midst of the Nazi occupation. There is also plenty of foreboding that this tale isn't going to end well, which grants a very brooding, Gothic atmosphere.
The modern side of the novel is almost a relief as it winds its counterpoint to the story from 1944 and 1945. The author normally writes in the Young Adult field, and handles the teenage character well.
Unfortunately, after quite a lengthy build-up, the novel's ending didn't quite work for me. Most readers will have long guessed the identify of Tamar's grandfather, so that the ending merely reveals the sordid details of what happened in WWII. The author is also obviously angling for readers to experience some kind of epiphany over the nature of guilt and forgiveness, but that simply didn't work for me - probably because one of the characters was just to sketchy to make an impression.
So this is a flawed novel, in my opinion - still an interesting read if you want some perspective on the Dutch Resistance and the Starvation Winter, but the ending was less than what it could have been.
The book contains war-related violence and sexual situations, so it is not suitable for younger readers. The story also involves a fifteen-year-old girl taking an extended trip with a college-age "family friend" - questionable material in my mind, even if this story arc has no sexual content. I was definitely surprised and disappointed when I learned that this book is labeled "Young Adult" on some websites - if I had a fifteen-year-old daughter, I wouldn't want her getting any ideas!
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .