Munich by Robert Harris


Munich is about  the 1938 Munich Conference and I found it absolutely fascinating  as I know very little about the period beyond the basic facts – PM Neville Chamberlain was trying to maintain the peace in the face of Hitler’s aims to expand German territory (but I was a bit vague about the actual details) and in 1938 came back from the Munich conference with a piece of paper signed by Hitler, proclaiming that it meant ‘peace for our time‘.


Munich is a mix of fact and fiction. Harris uses two fictional characters, Hugh Legat as one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries and Paul Hartmann, a German diplomat and a member of the anti-Hitler resistance to tell his story. Harris’ interest in the Munich Agreement began thirty years ago when he made a BBC TV documentary, ‘God Bless You Mr Chamberlain’ to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the conference in 1988. He has thoroughly researched the subject, consulting many books (listed in the Acknowledgements) and has seamlessly woven the facts into the novel. It has a a strong sense of place, based no doubt on his visits to what was once the Führerbau, now the Faculty of Music and Theatre and Hitler’s old apartment in Prinzregentenplatz, now used as a police headquarters.

Munich explores the moral dilemma of appeasement, and of making a stand. It portrays Chamberlain as a man of high moral principals, deeply concerned that the horrors of World War One should not be repeated and not as a weak appeaser easily fooled by Hitler. His objective was:

… to avert war in the short term, and then to try to build a lasting peace for the future – one month, one day at a time, if needs be. The worst act I could possibly commit for the future of mankind would be to walk away from this conference tonight. (page 267)

Reading this book has made me want to know more about Neville Chamberlain and I hope to read one of the biographies that Harris lists.

The fictional story of Hugh and Paul, who had been friends at university six years earlier adds additional tension and drama to the already tense story of the Munich conference. As in his earlier books Harris has captured the atmosphere and mood of the times, making me feel as though I’m there with the characters taking part in the action. The key characters are seen through Hugh’s and Paul’s perspectives – Chamberlain and Hitler – and others such as Mussolini, Goering and the other British politicians who travelled with Chamberlain to Munich.  Among the later was Lord Dunglass, described by one of Chamberlain’s secretaries as ‘one of the cleverest politicians she had ever encountered‘; she considered that he would ‘be Prime Minister one day‘. At the time it was inconceivable that a premier could sit in the House of Lords and her prediction was dismissed. However, Dunglass went on to inherit his father’s title and become the 14th Earl of Home and as Sir Alec-Douglas-Home (renouncing his peerage) he did indeed become Prime Minister.

I really like Harris’ straight forward writing style with no flashbacks, fly forwards or ambiguities. I learned a lot from this book and as far as I can tell (as I said I don’t know much about the period) it is an accurate version of what happened at Munich. It is a dramatic story well told – definitely a 5* book!

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; 01 edition (21 Sept. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091959195
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091959197
  • Source: Library book
  • My rating: 5*

The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey

Jonathan Cape, Vintage Digital| 1 March 2018|304 p|Review copy|4.5*


My Week in Books: 28 February 2018

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.


A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.


51IBFwYPBfLMunich by Robert Harris, set in 1938, beginning in September as Hitler is determined to start a war and Chamberlain is desperate to preserve the peace. I’ve read about half the book and am finding it fascinating.


As Chamberlain’s plane judders over the Channel and the Führer’s train steams relentlessly south from Berlin, two young men travel with secrets of their own. 

Hugh Legat is one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries; Paul Hartmann a German diplomat and member of the anti-Hitler resistance. Great friends at Oxford before Hitler came to power, they haven’t seen one another since they were last in Munich six years earlier. Now, as the future of Europe hangs in the balance, their paths are destined to cross again. 

When the stakes are this high, who are you willing to betray? Your friends, your family, your country or your conscience?

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan, due to be published tomorrow, 1 March 2018. This is a delightful book taking me back to the books of my childhood as Lucy Mangan describes the books she loved. I’ve nearly finished it, so I’ll post my review soon.


The Cat in the Hat? Barbar? The Very Hungry Caterpillar? Whoever it was for you, it’s very hard to forget the vivid intensity of your first encounter with a book.

As a bespectacled young bookworm, Lucy Mangan devoured books: from early picture books, to Swallows and Amazons, Enid Blyton to Little Women, and from trashy teen romances to her first proper ‘grown-up’ novels. In Bookworm, she revisits this early enthusiasm; celebrating the enduring classics, and disinterring some forgotten treasures.

This is a love letter to the joys of childhood reading, full of enthusiasm and wit, telling the colourful story of our best-loved children’s books, the extraordinary people who created them, and the thousand subtle ways they shape our lives. It also comes packed with brilliant recommendations to inspire the next generation of bookworms and set them on their way.

This impassioned book will bring the unforgettable characters of our collective childhoods back to life – prompting endless re-readings, rediscoveries, and, inevitably, fierce debate. It will also act as an invaluable guide to anyone looking to build a children’s library and wondering where to start, or where to go next.


The last book I finished is Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman. This book has won several awards: Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller (2014), Edgar Award for Best First Novel (2015), Strand Critics Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2014). I really enjoyed it. My review will be up soon.


When an elderly recluse discovers a corpse on his land, Officer Henry Farrell follows the investigation to strange places in the countryside, and into the depths of his own frayed soul.

In Wild Thyme, Pennsylvania, secrets and feuds go back generations. The lone policeman in a small township on the sparse northern border, Henry Farrell expected to spend his mornings hunting and fishing, his evenings playing old-time music. Instead, he has watched the dual encroachment of fracking companies and drug dealers bring money and troubles to the area. As a second body turns up, Henry’s search for the killer opens old wounds and dredges up ancient crimes which some people desperately want to keep hidden.

With vivid characters and flawless pacing, Tom Bouman immerses readers in this changing landscape. In these derelict woods, full of whitetail deer and history, the hunt is on…


The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey, also due to be published tomorrow, 1 March 2018.

Blurb (Amazon):

15th century Oakham, in Somerset; a tiny village cut off by a big river with no bridge. When a man is swept away by the river in the early hours of Shrove Saturday, an explanation has to be found: accident, suicide or murder? The village priest, John Reve, is privy to many secrets in his role as confessor. But will he be able to unravel what happened to the victim, Thomas Newman, the wealthiest, most capable and industrious man in the village? And what will happen if he can’t?

Moving back in time towards the moment of Thomas Newman’s death, the story is related by Reve – an extraordinary creation, a patient shepherd to his wayward flock, and a man with secrets of his own to keep. Through his eyes, and his indelible voice, Harvey creates a medieval world entirely tangible in its immediacy.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

New-to-Me Books from Barter Books

On Tuesday it was time for another visit to my favourite bookshop Barter Books, one of the largest secondhand bookshops in Britain. We were early getting there just after it had opened for the day, so there was space to park right outside the entrance.

I was quite restrained and only brought three books home, with me. But at least I’ve made some room on my bookshelves as I’d brought in six books. These are the books I brought home:


Killing Floor by Lee Child,the first in his Jack Reacher series. I’m keen to read this because I’ve recently read the 22nd book in the series and want to know more about Reacher, an ex-military cop of no fixed abode.

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin. I’ve read some of Valerie Martin’s books before and enjoyed them. This one weaves fact and fiction concerning the mystery surrounding the Mary Celeste, looking at it from different viewpoints including those of a psychic and Arthur Conan Doyle, who was inspired by it to write a short story, J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement

Defying Hitler: a Memoir by Sebastian Haffner, a memoir of life in Germany during the Nazi rise to power. It was written in 1939 during Haffner’s exile in England. I’ve been reading novels about the Second World War period, so I think it would be good to know more about  the Wiemar Republic, particularly from a German who lived through those times.

What do you think? Have you read any of these? Do they tempt you too?

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

Lake Union| 20 February 2018|352 p|Review copy|3*

In 1944, British bomber pilot Hugo Langley parachuted from his stricken plane into the verdant fields of German-occupied Tuscany. Badly wounded, he found refuge in a ruined monastery and in the arms of Sofia Bartoli. But the love that kindled between them was shaken by an irreversible betrayal.

Nearly thirty years later, Hugo’s estranged daughter, Joanna, has returned home to the English countryside to arrange her father’s funeral. Among his personal effects is an unopened letter addressed to Sofia. In it is a startling revelation.

Still dealing with the emotional wounds of her own personal trauma, Joanna embarks on a healing journey to Tuscany to understand her father’s history—and maybe come to understand herself as well. Joanna soon discovers that some would prefer the past be left undisturbed, but she has come too far to let go of her father’s secrets now… 

I enjoyed The Tuscan Child up to a point. I liked the historical setting of 1944 and the descriptions of Tuscany and Italian food are beautiful. It’s easy reading and the dialogue gives a good impression of people speaking in a foreign language in which they are not fluent. Although I love Italian food I did begin to groan when yet another meal was being prepared and described in detail.

But the split narrative between Hugo and Joanna didn’t work too well for me. I liked Hugo’s story more than Joanna’s and I wanted to know what happened to him which kept me reading. But I thought the book was more of a romance than a historical mystery. And I thought the mystery element wasn’t too difficult to work out with rather too many convenient events that revealed what had happened to Hugo.

My thanks to Lake Union for a review copy via NetGalley.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

My Tuesday Post: Munich by Robert Harris

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by The Purple Booker. Post two sentences from somewhere in a book you’re reading. No spoilers, please! List the author and book title too.

My first paragraph this week is from Munich by Robert Harris, which I’m currently reading.



It begins:

Shortly before one o’clock on the afternoon of Tuesday 27 September 1938, Mr Hugh Legat of His Majesty’s Diplomatic Service was shown to his table beside one of the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Ritz restaurant in London, ordered a half-bottle of 1921 Dom Perignon that he could not afford, folded his copy of The Times to page seventeen and began to read for the third time the speech that had been delivered the night before in Berlin’s Sportpalast by Adolf Hitler.

Here is a teaser from page 99. 

The Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain is talking to Legat about the suffering endured through the last war (the First World War):

… Afterwards, whenever I saw a war memorial, or visited one of those vast cemeteries in France where so many dear friends are buried, I always vowed that if ever I was in a position to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again, I would do anything – sacrifice anything – to maintain peace. You understand that?’


September 1938. Hitler is determined to start a war. Chamberlain is desperate to preserve the peace. The issue is to be decided in a city that will forever afterwards be notorious for what takes place there. Munich. 

As Chamberlain’s plane judders over the Channel and the Fürher’s train steams relentlessly south from Berlin, two young men travel with secrets of their own.

Hugh Legat is one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries, Paul Hartmann a German diplomat and member of the anti-Hitler resistance. Great friends at Oxford before Hitler came to power, they haven’t seen one another since they were last in Munich six years earlier. Now their paths are destined to cross again as the future of Europe hangs in the balance.

When the stakes are this high, who are you willing to betray? Your friends, your family, your country or your conscience?

I’ve read just a few pages on from my teaser and am firmly fixed in the pre-war years and hoping, futilely I know, that Chamberlain would succeed in preventing the coming war. I also want to know more about him. As Harris has portrayed him so far in this book he seems a man out of his time – a Victorian figure – and a man who like Hitler was egocentric, a man who ‘always conflated the national interest with himself.‘ (page 37)

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

the Nightingale

Pan |29 January 2015| 5*

The Nightingale, in 2015 was voted a best book of the year by Amazon, Buzzfeed, iTunes, Library JournalPasteThe Wall Street Journal and The Week.  Additionally, the novel won the coveted Goodreads and People’s Choice Awards. The audiobook of The Nightingale won the Audiobook of the Year Award in the fiction category. And I can see why.


Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.

As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength is tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.

My thoughts:

The Nightingale is one of the most moving books I’ve read and I was emotionally drained by the end of the story. It tells of two French sisters and their experiences during the occupation of France in the Second World War. The younger sister, Isabelle is beautiful, impetuous and a rebel. She joins the Resistance Movement, whereas Vianne, married,  stays at home looking after her daughter whilst her husband goes off to war.

This is a story of courage, of love and of the determination to survive under dreadful and appalling conditions – the horrors and dilemmas of living in an occupied country under Nazi rule, with rationing, curfews, and the dangers of being caught helping or of being a Resistance fighter. Vianne was faced with the dilemmas of whether to collude with the Nazi officers billeted in her house and whether to help her Jewish friend to escape before she could be taken off to the concentration camps. Isabelle takes desperate risks as she helps British and American airmen to freedom over the Alps to Spain. Hannah spares no details and I struggled to read the details of what people can do to those they consider their enemies.

Interspersed at intervals the narrative moves to 1995 as one of the sisters is invited and goes to a reunion. For a long time I couldn’t decide which one it was and by the time it was revealed I was in tears at the sadness and pathos of it all.

This book is one of my TBRs – a book I’ve owned prior to 1 January 2018.