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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Tightly-Plotted, Intelligent Thriller

City of Women - David R. Gillham

Set in 1943, when Hitler's plans are finally beginning to unravel, City Of Women is the story of Sigrid a middle-aged woman whose husband is fighting on the the Eastern Front and who stumbles into helping to hide Jews.

It's a tense, tightly-plotted and intelligent thriller and Gillham superbly conveys the claustrophobic atmosphere of a city in which everyone is trying to outdo everyone else in patriotism, conscious always of the Gestapo men lurking on the corner and the casual but limitless violence they are prepared to meet out.

As with most thrillers, there's some heavy-duty plot-engineering, but the complexity of Gillham's characters, their divided loyalties, and the authenticity of their dialogue raises this beyond the conventions of the genre. It's also a very cinematic novel. I particularly enjoyed the set-piece climax that is played out against the backdrop of Berlin's Anhalter Bahnhof:

"Outside the station, a brass band of middle-aged Brownshirts has assembled in the open plaza with air-raid sandbags as a backdrop. The brassy clash as they tune up echoes in the vaulted ceilings of the bahnhof 's main portal.
     Inside, the grandly appointed booking house, built for empire, has taken on a grimy, patched-up wartime face. Sand¬bags, boarded-up windows, chips, and cracks in the masonry. An immense swastika banner, edged with grime, hangs above the heads of the hordes of drab travelers, who grumble as they are herded by the loudspeakers."

A convincing portrait of a city being relentlessly ground down in the nightmare of Nazism – I couldn't put it down.