Traveling to Faro, Portugal, journalist Joanna Millard hopes to escape an unsatisfying relationship and a stalled career. Faro is an enchanting town, and the seaside views are enhanced by the company of Nathan Emberlin, a charismatic younger man. But behind the crumbling facades of Moorish buildings, Joanna soon realizes, Faro has a seedy underbelly, its economy compromised by corruption and wartime spoils. And Nathan has an ulterior motive for seeking her company: he is determined to discover the truth involving a child’s kidnapping that may have taken place on this dramatic coastline over two decades ago.
Joanna’s subsequent search leads her to Ian Rylands, an English expat who cryptically insists she will find answers in The Alliance, a novel written by American Esta Hartford. The book recounts an American couple’s experience in Portugal during World War II, and their entanglements both personal and professional with their German enemies. Only Rylands insists the book isn’t fiction, and as Joanna reads deeper into The Alliance, she begins to suspect that Esta Hartford’s story and Nathan Emberlin’s may indeed converge in Faro—where the past not only casts a long shadow but still exerts a very present danger.
After being made redundant, and in an attempt to escape a failing relationship, journalist Joanna Millard signs up for a Portuguese language course in Faro. What could be better than taking time out to regroup in a country that offers 300 days of sun? As it turns out, possibly anything!
Joanna finds herself befriended by another student, the charismatic Nathan, who it soon transpires has ulterior motives and wants Joanna, initially at least, for her journalistic skills. He has an intriguing story involving dodgy land deals, corruption and child abduction stretching back to the 1980’s and he believes he was one of the abductees. What follows is a dangerous search for the truth that leads into areas that no-one could have envisaged.
I was intrigued by the plot and totally drawn in by the use of the dual time lines, cleverly introduced by means of incorporating a previously written book to set the background. The common link between the two elements was a child abduction and gradually we came to understand how the two were linked. What I hadn’t anticipated was the historical aspect that portrayed a fascinating picture of Portugal during WWII. While officially neutral, under the authoritarian (deemed pro-fascist) regime of Salazar and the Estado Novo Portugal continued to trade with the Allies as well as the European Axis powers. She was home to displaced refugees, Nazi sympathisers and allied spies, with the latter two seeming to create a hotbed of double dealing and subterfuge. With a tale involving Nazi gold, that still arouses debate today, it added an extra dimension to the story.
There was an exceedingly varied and occasionally confusing cast of characters as we switched between timelines and the contemporary cast of characters sometimes felt a little less rounded, possibly because that aspect of the story line was faster paced. I felt I knew my war time characters better and had more empathy for them. Ava was a great character who really gained strength as time progressed and she learned to stand up for herself. Meanwhile I suspect Joanna was still learning who she was and what she wanted. I did feel that Joanna and Nathan were sometimes a bit gung ho, considering theirs was a covert under cover investigation. That said, their occasional naivety added to the drama and excitement and this is fiction after all.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, it successfully combined intrigue, mystery and murder with a clever historical back story. I also have to say that it really sparked my interest in Portugal. This is the first book I’ve read by this author, but based on this experience will not be the last.
I received a review copy via NetGalley courtesy of the author in return for an honest review.