6.05.2014

The Bone Church, by Victoria Dougherty

The Bone Church
Pace is important to me as a reader, especially in historical fiction. It's tempting, after all the research an author has done, to include all the trivia. The trivia blogs the story down. Characters get lost while the author explains their context. That said, it's strange to encounter a book like Victoria Dougherty's The Bone Church, which has almost the opposite problem. Her characters race through mid-1940s Czechoslovakia and 1956 Communist Czechoslovakia so quickly that there's almost no exposition. Only the briefest of hints let you know when and where you are.

The book begins with a few chapters set in 1956 before flashing back to 1943. In 1956, a cardinal and a priest are trying to get the wife of a Czech dissident and her son out of Prague. The woman has been persecuted because of her husband's activities, even though she's guilty of nothing herself. The priest, Felix, soon reveals that he had a past with the woman, Magdalena. Then we're back in 1943. Magdalena and her mother, both Jewish, have been hiding with Felix Andel and his father. They've been lucky so far, but things start to go wrong. One day, Felix returns to his home to find his father confronting a man in his study. The man fatally shoots Felix's father. Felix swears revenge, but first, he has to find a safe place for himself and Magdalena.

The plot speeds up even more. Magdalena and Felix first try to go to Bratislava. They run into incredible bad luck almost immediately and are arrested by the Gestapo and shipped to Auschwitz. They escape and find their way back to Czechoslovakia. A gypsy, Jura Srut, helps them hide in Prague. They manage to survive, but Felix and Srut are drawn into a scheme by Resistance leader and sculptor, Justus Svoboda. Svoboda has a plan to assassinate Joseph Goebbels and needs Felix to get him into the right place at the right time. Svoboda makes promises to find hiding places for Magdalena and Srut's family, but he's clearly more interested in his own scheme than helping anyone out.

Characters are running almost from page one in The Bone Church. In 1956, they're running to save Magdalena and her son and avoid old enemies from the past. In 1943 and 1944, they're running from German police and collaborators. Svoboda has Felix and Srut running to put his plan into play. Any historical details are included almost accidentally. If you're not familiar with wartime Prague, you'll probably be running to Wikipedia to catch up on the relevant history and geography. If you want more thriller than historical fiction, The Bone Church, certainly fits the bill.

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for a fair review. 

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