By William Brodrick; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
When elderly Eduard Schwermann arrives at the door of Larkwood Priory asking for sanctuary, the priory is thrown into the national spotlight.
During World War II Schwermann was a low-ranking Schutzstaffel (SS) officer based in Paris. He is accused of helping to deport thousands of Jews to Auschwitz.
A French journalist, Pascal Fougères, has uncovered evidence that Schwermann was kept safe in a French monastery toward the end of the war, given false papers, and helped to escape to the United Kingdom disguised as a priest in the company of man known as Victor Brionne. They were briefly held and interrogated by a British intelligence officer, who wrote scarcely any notes and then released them.
The police want Schwermann to stay at the priory for safety. The British Home Office and the Catholic Church don’t want to be forced to explain what happened. Larkwood Prior Father Andrew must decide whether to deny sanctuary and have the priory seen as turning over an elderly man proclaiming his innocence to the police — or be seen as harboring a Nazi.
On the same day that Schwermann’s past becomes public, Agnes Aubret Embleton learns that she has motor neurone disease. The progressive degenerative nerve disease will gradually rob her ability to move or speak and will eventually kill her.
As she walks to her home near the Thames River, she thinks of the past: her work rescuing Jewish children with a group called The Round Table; her lover; her lost son; and the exposure and break-up the group.
“No green shoots of forgetfulness had grown,” she realizes. “The memory remained freshly cut, known only to Arthur. And now she was to die, without any resolution of the past, with no memorial to the others.”
On behalf of Larkwood Priory, Father Andrew selects Father Anselm Duffy, formerly an attorney, to go to Rome and find out what he can about why the Church protected an apparent Nazi.
This is a complex mystery reaching across more than a half a century. With the possible exceptions of Agnes and Schwermann, no character knows the full story until the end of the book. Of those who knew the most, two died in Mauthausen concentration camp; several went into hiding in England and France and stayed in hiding; and several made erroneous assumptions about events that mislead Father Anselm’s efforts to understand what happened and why.
Nothing is quite what it seems to be in this story.
The effort to find answers opens up a series of haunting questions: Should an elderly man be tried for the actions of his much younger self? Does saving a child’s life redeem a man who sent thousands to their deaths? Should the past be stirred up at the risk of potentially tearing apart families? Is forgiveness possible?
The name of this book refers to the Biblical book of LAMENTATIONS, a series of five poems lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE that asks whether suffering is a just punishment, hope a possibility after tragedy and God’s forgiveness attainable after wrongdoing.
This is a long and sometimes confusing book as different strands of the story are exposed. Father Anselm is an interesting character: his past as an attorney is of frequent good use to his community but his education and training as a monk rules his approaches to people and issues.
THE SIXTH LAMENTATION was followed by:
- THE GARDENS OF THE DEAD (2006)
- A WHISPERED NAME (2009), which won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award
- THE DAY OF THE LIE (2012)
- THE DISCOURTESY OF DEATH (2013)
- THE SILENT ONES (2015)
The Author: William Brodrick (1960 – )
After finishing his secondary education, William Brodrick became an Augustinian friar. He studied philosophy and theology at Heythrop College, University of London.
Ultimately he left the order and studied law in Manchester. He moved to Newcastle upon Tyne and practiced as a barrister for 10 years. He wrote his first novel, THE SIXTH LAMENTATION, part-time as he worked.
His character, the monk Anselm Duffy, is inspired by the medieval Saint Anselm, who was a lawyer and a theologian, who used as a starting point “faith seeking understanding.”
THE SIXTH LAMENTATION was influenced by experiences his mother had in Holland during World War II. She was part of a secret group working to get Jewish children to safety and was caught and imprisoned by the Nazis.
He also writes the Benson and de Vere series under the name John Fairfax (SUMMARY JUSTICE (2017), BLIND DEFENCE (2018) and FORCED CONFESSIONS (2020)).
He lives in a village in Normandy, where he lived with his wife and three children while they were growing up.
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