THRILLER Night­mare house call

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - An en­tirely orig­i­nal war story His mo­tives are shrouded in mys­tery JEN­NIFER LIP­MAN

The Dy­na­mite Room by Ja­son He­witt (Si­mon & Schus­ter, £12.99) is not des­tined to be loved by ev­ery reader. That’s not to say it isn’t a grip­ping read; it is sim­ply not the kind of book with univer­sal ap­peal.

For starters, it’s dif­fi­cult to get into and only re­ally ar­rives as a novel 50 pages in, when au­thor Ja­son He­witt trans­forms a story about an aban­doned child into an overt psy­cho­log­i­cal drama. And the char­ac­ters — a young girl from a com­fort­able English fam­ily, and a Ger­man sol­dier — do not come across at this point as en­gag­ing or par­tic­u­larly sym­pa­thetic.

How­ever, I’m glad I pur­sued it. There are few new wartime sto­ries left to be told, but this one was en­tirely orig­i­nal, and brought a new di­men­sion to the con­cept of the war out­side as con­trasted with the war at home.

The premise is rel­a­tively straight­for­ward. On a burn­ing hot, sum­mer’s day, as war rages in Europe, a girl called Ly­dia makes her way back to her fam­ily home on the south coast. We even­tu­ally learn that she is an evac­uee, but not why the house she comes back to ap­pears to be aban­doned, her mother long gone. Then along comes a lone Ger­man sol­dier, who tells her that Bri­tain has fallen to the Nazis.

As the story pro­gresses, the bond between Ly­dia and the man who is both her cap­tor and pre­sumed saviour de­vel­ops. In a par­tic­u­larly poignant mo­ment, she cooks for him, all the while know­ing that there is some­thing very, very wrong.

It is cap­ti­vat­ing, not least be­cause, while we know he is not speak­ing the truth, the au­thor only slowly re­veals what has led the sol­dier to Ly­dia’s home. His mo­tives are shrouded in mys­tery; does he gen­uinely have Ly­dia’s best in­ter­ests at heart, and, if not, what pos­si­ble rea­son does he have for tak­ing a child hostage? He­witt, a first-time au­thor, is adept at build­ing tension and jux­ta­pos­ing the sol­dier’s in­creas­ingly des­per­ate wartime mem­o­ries with Ly­dia’s grow­ing panic.

It’s not a per­fect book; nor is it re­ally a story about the Sec­ond World War, de­spite the au­thor’s ob­vi­ous en­thu­si­asm for re­search about how Bri­tain ap­proached the pos­si­bil­ity of a Ger­man in­va­sion. The writ­ing is good, if rather too re­liant on moody de­scrip­tions in­tended to build a sense of doom. Then, in­trigu­ing threads — such as the Jewish refugee who Ly­dia’s mother took in, or her brother’s un­ortho­dox love af­fair — are dan­gled, but barely ex­plored.

Still, for all th­ese crit­i­cisms, days’ later, The Dy­na­mite Room is still on my mind. An iso­lated English coun­try house; a stranger in­vad­ing its do­mes­tic se­cu­rity; the ever-present threat of war — all in­gre­di­ents for a good thriller. And that is what He­witt un­doubt­edly de­liv­ers.

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