The Lavender Keeper by Fiona McIntosh
|The Lavender Keeper by Fiona McIntosh
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson
|Summary: The French Resistance, the SOE, a tough wartime mission and romance: a popular subject and yet some authors can make it feel fresh and exciting. Fiona McIntosh is one such author so enjoy!
|Date: June 2013
|Publisher: Allison & Busby
|External links: Author's website
Provence 1942: Lavender farmer Luc Bonet joins the Maquis (a rural guerrilla wing of the French Resistance) to avenge the death of his adoptive Jewish family. Meanwhile in London gifted linguist Lisette Forester is recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a group of trained specialists parachuted into enemy territory to send vital information back to the homeland. Their paths will cross as Lisette is sent into France with the aim of ingratiating herself with Nazi Colonel Markus Kilian. The mission is clear cut on paper, but life can be messier than any plan can predict.
I must admit I wasn't familiar with Fiona McIntosh's work prior to this. Reading around the internet in preparation for the review (as you do) I found a couple of comments from fans suggesting that The Lavender Keeper may not show the author at her best. If this is the case, I shall be lining up for her back catalogue in the morning because even if this is 'not best', it's pretty darned excellent.
Writing on such a well-covered era must create problems regarding assumed knowledge. Should an author presume the basics and concentrate on quirkier facts to authenticate the tale or go back to WWII 101? Fiona solves that from the start as he covers both, ensuring that, whatever we've read before, we're absorbed by the atmosphere and the urge to turn the pages. For instance many of us may realise that windows were painted over for the blackout during the London blitz, but how many of us knew that London substituted for France when it came to training SOE agents to cross hostile states both invisibly and creatively?
Fiona also has a refreshing outlook when it comes to characterisation. None of the novel's three main pillars (Lisette, Luc and Markus) are from central casting. Luc is far from the conventional idea of a disciplined resistance fighter. He's capable of discipline but he's easily distracted from what he should do by the pull of his emotions. For Luc resistance is personal rather than national. We may shake our heads as he goes freestyle and yet we're hanging on by our whitening knuckles as the consequences are revealed and organisation unravels. Lisette is just as equally swayed. As for Markus Kilian… well… he's lovely. Yes. He's a Nazi Colonel but with an evident heart/conscience combination that's endearing.
These three come alive more convincingly because of this diversion from the stereotypical norm. As a result we witness perilous situations causing emotive responses that are difficult to hide or countermand while making the romantic element more credible too. Oh and there will be tears so tissues at the ready.
We may realise at the halfway point that one thread of the story line can only go in one direction but this matters not in the slightest. In fact the book's own blurb sums it up. An enthralling evocative read it most definitely is and the just as good news is that The French Promise, a sequel featuring the surviving characters, comes out later in 2013.
If you enjoy a French twist and fancy another novel that includes a wartime motif, we definitely recommend Paris by Edward Rutherfurd.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Lavender Keeper by Fiona McIntosh at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Lavender Keeper by Fiona McIntosh at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.