You can pay a terrible price for keeping a promise…
Evelyn Taylor-Clarke sits in her chair at Forest Lawns Care Home in the heart of the English countryside, surrounded by residents with minds not as sharp as hers. It would be easy to dismiss Evelyn as a muddled old woman, but her lipstick is applied perfectly, and her buttons done up correctly. Because Evelyn is a woman with secrets and Evelyn remembers everything. She can never forget the promise she made to the love of her life, to discover the truth about the mission that led to his death, no matter what it cost her…
When Evelyn’s niece Pat opens an old biscuit tin to find a photo of a small girl with a red ball entitled ‘Liese, 1951’ and a passport in another name, she has some questions for her aunt. And Evelyn is transported back to a place in Germany known as ‘The Forbidden Village,’ where a woman who called herself Eva went where no one else dared, amongst shivering prisoners, to find the man who gambled with her husband’s life…
This isn’t my usual type of read, mainly because war stories make me ugly cry and as this was an audiobook…. it was a prolonged ugly cry because I couldn’t just flip pages to a less distressing bit but Diana Croft asked me if I’d give is a listen and I’m powerless to resist the siren charm of that bloody narrator.
Sure, there were moments that I teared up (a few of them, tbh) but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the story. It did cover some of the horrors of the second world war and also a pretty graphic sexual assault, so be warned, but there was also a lot of kindness, mischief and overwhelming goodness to be found in the actions of some of the characters.
Evelyn is now elderly and living in a care home, mugging off her uncaring and harsh niece at every available opportunity. While she’s there, she reflects on her past and her work during and after the war – she has plenty of secrets that she hasn’t shared with anyone and it’s only through her letters to her deceased husband that we get a clear picture of what happened.
She’s a formidably strong character, growing from a naive and sweetly silly young woman to something of a badass, before time takes hold of her and she becomes frail and needs medical care. I love that she never once gives up on her integrity, she never once gives up on her love for her husband who was killed during the war and almost every step she takes in life is taken to honour his memory in some way.
The ending was incredibly satisfying and remained true to the character, I couldn’t have asked for anything better!
The audiobook version of this book really is the only way to go if you have a choice, Croft nails all the voices and manages to represent Evelyn perfectly through all the different stages of her life as well as all the other characters. A story with this much heart needs a talented narrator and it definitely got it.
The writing style is elegant and enrapturing, I loved every single second of the book and genuinely wished that Eva was someone I could meet in real life – someone bold, clever, mischevous and above all… not afraid to drink a shot of moonshine when the situation calls for it.