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The 6th Lamentation

William Brodrick

Viking/Penguin Group

US Hardcover First


Publication Date: July, 2003

387 Pages; $24.95

Date Reviewed: November 3, 2003

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2003



Mystery, General Fiction

Once a year, the timekeepers of the world take an hour away from us. And once a year, these same timekeepers give it back. The return of the hour is far sweeter than the loss, by then long forgotten. I spent my found hour well, joyfully immersed in reading 'The 6th Lamentation', an exceptional first novel from William Brodrick. A novel combining history, the Holocaust and the Church, however widely acclaimed, would normally register at the top of the not-to-my-taste ledger and be quickly passed over. But acclaim trumped my sturdily-built and solidly defended bias against historical and religious mysteries. And I learned, or re-learned, that biases need a good airing out periodically. 'The 6th Lamentation' is simply too good to have missed.

Brodrick's novel encompasses all the elemental human themes of grand literature - death and survival, loyalty and betrayal, deceit and honesty, sin and redemption, and the reach of history's long fingers from deep in the past to the present and into the future. It is a dense, literary and suspenseful story that traces historical events and actions to their unfolding in the present. It is history made real, one character at a time and one relationship at a time.

Father Anselm, a former British barrister turned monk (the author, William Brodrick traced this path the opposite way, going from monk to barrister), meets an old man who asks what he should do when the world has turned against him. Anselm replies - claim sanctuary from the Church. The old man, Edward Schwermann, a Nazi collaborator who sent thousands of French Jews to their deaths, does exactly that. The Church facing a public outcry at best, or, if historical facts are revealed, criminal complicity, sends Anselm to investigate.

Separately, Agnes Embleton, an elderly woman with a progressively debilitating neuro-motor disease faces death and finally tells her grand daughter Lucy the never-before-revealed story of her early days as a member of a resistance group in Paris in the late 1930's and 40's as Hitler rose to power. The resistance group, the Round Table, supported by the Church, smuggled Jewish children out of France to safety. The Round Table was ultimately betrayed, its members captured by the Nazis and either killed or sent to concentration camps. But betrayed by whom?

As expected, the stories of Anselm's investigation and Agnes' past, divergent at the outset, meet, intertwine and ultimately merge as the novel progresses. False identities are unmasked, secret relationships revealed, atrocious actions uncovered and base motivations exposed. Some 50 years later, the complexities and consequences of these historic actions are played out in the lives of the participants, their children and their grand children.

Brodrick's large cast of characters, from both the past and present, are threaded into a fine tension by their shared history. The complex story unfolds slowly, piece by piece, detail by detail, each in its due time. While Brodrick's pacing is languid, his control of the complicated plot and broad cast is firm and deliberate. He switches from past to present, from character to character, from revelation to revelation, smoothly and to maximum effect. The reader's interest never wanes and the tension never falters. In language that is dense and literary, Brodrick tells a powerful story of truth wrenched from lies, of far reaching consequences, of villainy, of treachery and despair. Elevated by good old-fashioned story telling that is morally compelling, suspenseful and satisfying, 'The 6th Lamentation' is a superb debut literary mystery.