Author Nancy Kasten from Arizona has begun reviewing books and she’s doing a wonderful job. I posted her first review a few days ago–a review of Author Ursula Borck’s travelogue and personal journal of her visits to Peru and Ecuador. Today, I’m sharing a wonderful review she wrote for my historical mystery, Breadcrumbs and Bombs.

Breadcrumbs and Bombs

 A Review by Nancy Kasten

 Breadcrumbs and Bombs is the ninth novel written by Susan Finlay and the first novel in her new Tangled Roots historical mystery series.

The story opens as twenty-eight year old Lucas Landry is sitting in the driveway of his father’s home. Joseph Landry has died and Lucas, as the older son, has the task of cleaning out the house and putting it on the market. After a routine walk- through of the main part of the house, Lucas goes upstairs to check the bedrooms and makes an amazing discovery. As he removes all of the clothes from the closet in the master bedroom, he notices a crack in the back wall. When he pushes the wall, it moves and opens up to reveal a stairwell leading to an attic filled with boxes, filing cabinets and old suitcases. Not unusual contents for an attic, but Lucas had no knowledge that any of these things existed.

When Lucas and his wife, Tawny, begin an exploration, they find documents related to the past, most notably from Germany during World War II. Lucas doesn’t recognize any of the faces in the photographs or any of the names written in the letters and diaries.

Who were these people? What connection did they have with him? Why were these documents in the Landry house? Why had the attic been kept a secret?

Lucas wonders if “… This must be what it feels like to suddenly find out you’re adopted and have no idea where your roots lie. That’s how his father had left him. Rootless. Bound only to this old Victorian house. The only thing he knew for sure was that his family had at least two racists that he knew of. Wasn’t it possible he came from a whole line of racists?” ( 23)

The stage is set for the mystery to be solved and as the narrative moves forward, Ms. Finlay skillfully  sustains suspense and tension. With each chapter, she alternates the settings and characters. She begins with Lucas and his family in Sacramento California in 2015 and then switches to Sudetenland and Germany in 1943 in chapter two. Over a period of years, in the present and the past, she develops the stories of the individual families and then brings all to a satisfying conclusion.

Breadcrumbs and Bombs is a good mystery. It’s also a good historical novel. The author clearly describes effects of the war on the people in Germany: the lack of food and fuel, Hanna notices how thin her children are and can do nothing, “… Everyone was past complaining and freezing” (137 ). Christa is almost suffocated by the stink of a bomb shelter. She watches a man defecate in clear view of everyone. Families are torn apart when fathers are conscripted and their whereabouts unknown.

Through all of this, Ms. Finlay also examines the complex nature of the family unit.  Family dynamics, both in the past and present, are illustrated with various characters.

Living in a family is not always easy, especially, when siblings have different ideologies. When the story begins, Lucas and his younger brother, Seth, have been estranged for five years. When Lucas told Seth, he was engaged to Tawny, a black woman, Seth refused to meet her. In fact, Seth tried to dissuade Lucas from marrying her because Seth is a racist, and believes Americans should be a pure race. The argument ended in a fist fight. Lucas can’t remember who threw the first punch, but the rift had definitely been made.

A similar situation develops in the Seidel family in Germany in 1944. Ilse watches the moral decline of her younger brother, Johann, when he joins Hitler’s Youth group and believes the propaganda that’s fed to him. The blind hatred, which he learns, is exemplified when he finds out that Ilse is helping and hiding, Ron, a young wounded, American soldier. When Johann does his duty and tells the authorities, he ruins the lives of both Ron and Ilse and “… all she could think about was the fact that her brother had betrayed her.” (145). When she learns of Johann’s death, Ilse can’t even cry.

But the helpful, loving side of family is also shown. With the birth of her son, Ilse faces a crisis. She wants to keep him, but she has no means to support him. She dissolves into tears thinking of letting him go. Her Aunt Karolina, who is lonely and has money, asks Ilse if she could adopt the baby. The solution affords a good life for the child and a way for the family to stay together.

Toward the end of the story, Lucas wants to make amends with his brother. He realizes that Seth is in trouble and hurting from an addiction and from recent events severely affecting his life. Lucas knows he can help him and extends an olive branch. Seth is amazed, yet relieved. Even with their different beliefs, they are still family.

One of the main themes, conveyed in Ms. Finlay’s book, is how much power and strength a family can generate when its members stick together.

In Germany after the war, young Christa Nagel interviews for a job as a nanny. When asked, she talks about herself and her family ordeals during the war and how her family survived. She states that they “…were luckier than many … I mean, we all survived. I think because we pulled together, protected each other. Bombs dropped around us, soldiers shot at us, we almost starved…But none of this could break us. We were together, a family, and that made us strong.” ( 281)

At the end of the novel, Lucas adds to these sentiments when he says to Seth :

“… The more we learn about history and the world and how things are connected, the more likely it is we can understand that everyone makes mistakes … that we don’t have to hold onto guilt feelings forever. …” (323).

From bits and pieces of information left by his relatives, Lucas is taken into the past and learns valuable lessons about families and life in Breadcrumbs and Bombs.

Fortunately for Ms. Finlay’s fans, the mystery is not over. Bloodlines and Barbed Wire, her second novel in this series, has just been published. In this tale, our hero, Lucas, reappears and gets himself involved in yet another mystery, another puzzle to piece together.

Get ready. The game is a foot.