Review of Turncoat
Turncoat is my first brush with Aaron Elkins, and I will be definitely exploring more of his work. This novel is a superb page-turner, combining sympathetic characters with intertwined mysteries in a tale well-paced and well spun. The combination of personal drama, murder, and deep mystery makes for a superb read.
The protagonist is a medieval historian forced to explore recent history, searching for his missing wife and her mysterious past. The cover image of an ominous swastika may overwhelm or misdirect. Although the Nazi occupation of France is an important plot device, this is genuinely more the story of individual characters and community and how humanity judges itself. The dynamics of judgment are the threads that really ground and draw together this story, and in this, the author is brilliantly clever. There is limited predictability here – certainly for me – and the pace of revealing and changing settings makes a gripping and engaging read. Although historically inspired, this novel doesn’t tread heavily on reciting historical events as a plot. Instead, it is an imagined tale set in its own ecosystem, distanced from textbook delivery.
Set in the early 1960s, there is only a tiny hint of the particularities of the period. The period seems chosen to enable the protagonists’ appropriate ages rather than being crucial for the wider setting. At times there seems to be a logistic sense that the characters exist in modern times (ease and availability of air travel and global awareness). Only the evident absence of the internet, instantaneous messaging, and facts at your fingertips being unavailable necessitates a drawn-out and experiential fact-finding mission that would may not as familiar to us today.
The writing is tight and very well crafted – purely readable, relatable, and believable.