BEYOND A BROKEN SKY
2022. Stained-glass expert Rhoda Sullivan is called to Telton Hall to examine a window designed by an Italian Prisoner of War during WW2. It should be a quick job but when she and the owner’s son, Nate Hartwell, discover a body underneath one of the flagstones in the chapel, Rhoda cannot let the mystery go. She knows what it’s like to miss someone who is missing – her twin brother disappeared just before their eighteenth birthday, and she has been looking for him for nearly a decade. But when the threats start, it’s clear someone doesn’t want the secrets of Telton Hall to come to light.
1945. Alice Renshaw is in trouble. Sent away to hide her shame, she is taken in by Louise Hartwell who has a farm in Somerset worked by prisoners of war. As her belly grows, Alice finds solace in new friendships, but not everyone at Telton Hall is happy about it. And even though peace has been declared in Europe, the war at home is only just beginning…
SUZANNE FORTIN – (A pseudonym used by Sue Fortin)
Suzanne writes historical fiction, predominantly dual timeline and set in France. Her books feature courageous women in extraordinary circumstances, with love and family at the heart of all the stories.
Suzanne was a bookworm as a child and this naturally progressed to wanting to write her own stories. It wasn’t until she was on maternity leave with her fourth child, that she thought it was now or never and finally managed to write a complete novel. Having joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association under their New Writers’ Scheme, writing then as Sue Fortin, she sent her manuscript off for a critique. After another year of working on the novel, Sue self-published United States of Love – a contemporary romance. This was then picked up by a traditional publisher, HarperCollins and under their imprint Harper Impulse (now One More Chapter) this book was republished. Writing as Sue Fortin, another seven books in the romantic suspense genre were published with HarperCollins.
More recently, Sue has moved to writing historical fiction and publishes under the name of Suzanne Fortin, with her debut in this genre, The Forgotten Life of Arthur Pettinger released in early 2021 with Head of Zeus imprint, Aria Fiction.
A self-confessed Francophile, Suzanne has a home in the Morbihan region of France and visits as often as she can with her husband and family. The region has been a huge inspiration for Suzanne’s books and is often the backdrop to her writing.
Suzanne was born in Hertfordshire but had a nomadic childhood, moving often with her family, before eventually settling in West Sussex.
Married with four children and two grandchildren – when not behind the keyboard, Suzanne likes to spend her time with them, enjoying both the coast and the South Downs, between which they are nestled.
A keen amateur photographer, Suzanne’s favourite place to hang out on social media is Instagram.
“She liked to come out here when the first craggy fingers of dawn were breaking across the horizon. When she could hear nothing but the lap of the water against her ears as she floated on her back, turned away from the shore and gazing out as the morning sun broke cover. When the world rotated and another day tempted her with promises of good times and better things to come, and when she hoped that by the time the earth had turned on its axis, those promises would be fulfilled”
“It was poisonous, stale and evil inside the house – Billy was the carbon dioxide to her oxygen, and she didn’t want to be anywhere near him”
“She could have afforded something bigger and more modern, had she been willing to compromise on location, but she’d hated the thought of not being able to wake up to the sound of the sea crashing on the shoreline and the seagulls squawking overhead. It gave her a sense of freedom, something which had been lacking during the years she’d spent growing up in the care of the local authority”
“Alice couldn’t help smiling. She’d never known anyone like Brett before – certainly none of the lads in the village. They wouldn’t dream of talking so openly or tenderly to a woman. Christ, they’d more likely talk lovingly to their bloody cows before they would their girlfriend”
“Well, I think you should leave the past in the past. Things happened during the war that might not have happened any other time. You won’t be doing anyone any favours digging up a load of trouble after all this time”
“Nate was a great believer in never asking his employees to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. Damn it. He hated having morals sometimes”
“They had all come here to have their babies in secret and to give up their flesh and blood for adoption. In Alice’s mind, the rooms and the hallway echoed with their silent tears; the carpets absorbed their sorrow and the curtains soaked up their despair”
“Love isn’t always about keeping someone. Sometimes it’s about letting them go”
“Nate got out of the car and was rather surprised to see his father smile at Rhoda. That was a quick turnaround. She was like some sort of horse whisperer but with grumpy old farmers instead”
“Nate was back within a few minutes and sat in the armchair on the other side of the fireplace to his father, Rhoda had already seated herself on the sofa, while DS Shepherd remained standing. She had to withhold a smile at the thought they looked as if they were on the set of an Agatha Christie mystery, and the policeman was just about to reveal the name of the killer. They only needed a gardener, a maid and an eccentric aunt to complete the cast”
“In a time of war, can love save them?”
I just knew that I had to read this book, as soon as it became available on NetGalley. Not only have I read one of the author’s previous books and enjoyed both her wonderful storytelling, and fluent writing style. But the notion of a storyline which included the words ‘stained glass expert’ in the premise, was simply too good to ignore, as this is a profession which runs deep within the veins of the American arm of my own family and has always intrigued me. Plus, the village, farm and chapel locations, are all in Somerset, the county I now call home, albeit that many of the place names used are fictitious. However, there are several more relevant and comprehensive references and acknowledgements at the end of the book, which helped me pinpoint places.
It would be all too easy to let ‘spoilers’ slip into my storyline premise, so this one is deliberately short and sweet…
1945 – Fallen woman, Alice Renshaw, is sent to Telton Hall, Somerset for her forthcoming confinement and the subsequent adoption of her baby. Louise Hartwell is a kind and compassionate woman, as are her small team of staff, her young son and his cousin. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for her older stepson, who has been invalided out of the army and cannot cope with life cooped up on the farm. Bitter and twisted, he despises the situation the young girls find themselves in, but believes them to be fair game after their babies are born, making him unpredictable and dangerous. The only people he hates more, are the two Italian POWs Louise has working on the farm, especially when Alice catches the eye of one of them and her feelings are reciprocated.
2022 – Sussex based, Rhoda Sullivan, is finding it difficult to move on with her life, always waiting for news on social media, which never comes. Her twin brother Dean disappeared 10 years ago just before their 18th birthdays and no one has seen or heard from him since. They had grown up in the care system, although they had been separated by many short stay, foster parent placements.
In her role as stained glass expert, at the living museum she works for, she is assigned to remove and renovate some windows from the farm chapel, at Telton Hall, in Somerset, so that the chapel itself can then be relocated to the museum and the windows re-installed, with the remaining farm buildings destined to be demolished for development.
It soon becomes apparent that the incumbent farmer, Jack and his cousin Aggie, have something to hide, and the chapel seems to hold the key to all their darkest secrets. Jack’s son Nate and grandson Isaac, together with a very inquisitive Rhoda, soon become embroiled in the stoic war of silence being waged by the the farm’s elderly residents, with the three of them being determined to get to the bottom of a mystery which grows deeper and takes on darker meaning and undertones, as time goes on.
When wartime actions collide with present day reckoning, there are spectacular and far-reaching consequences as the timelines merge, and tensions run high. Documents suddenly go missing and there are obviously many family secrets to which Nate is not party, making it difficult for him to protect an increasingly vulnerable Rhoda, as she begins to unravel the web of lies and secrets held so close, for so many years, placing herself in extreme danger.
When Nate and Rhoda, with the help of a very usefully attentive Isaac, finally begin to piece things together and work out just how the two timelines are so intricately balanced and woven together, they have some tough decisions to make, which will affect all their futures.
This emotional, intriguing, atmospheric and immersive, multi-layered storyline, is well researched and structured in short, seamless and easy to navigate chapters. Narrated as an alternating dual timeline story, set in 1945 and 2022, interspersed with some additional sad and poignant letters written by an incarcerated man, to his family at home, far away. Part thriller, part love story, there were plenty of secrets, twists and double twists, which were just waiting to trip me up. Even with the added advantage of knowing much of the history, which Rhoda is not privy to and must piece together little by little, I was still unsure about the final outcome until it happened, even though I was right about the general direction in which things were heading.
There were so many poignant and interesting strands to the storyline, which kept me intrigued – The societal mores of a time when bearing a child out of wedlock was a matter of extreme shame and many mothers found themselves enduring birth away from home, with the knowledge that their new baby was going to be taken away from them immediately for adoption. The bitter hatred of a war invalid and his inability to re-join society, which today would almost certainly be recognised as PTSD. The decision of a group of people to deal lawlessly with a criminal situation, an act which they know they must never discuss, as to name any one of them might see them all found guilty, then to have the strength to keep their silence until their dying days. The total devotion of a father to a son who is on the spectrum and can be quite single-minded and difficult to connect with, but finds himself holding the key to unlocking the puzzle. And a woman, so scarred and damaged by the care system as a child, that moving on alone, or allowing anyone to get close to her, has always caused an emotional trauma.
Notwithstanding my own personal preference for the use of real place names in books, the beautifully nuanced and descriptive narrative and dialogue, afford a wonderfully visual and evocative feeling of time and place, lifting the sights, sounds and smells from the page, as I took my ‘armchair journey’ back in time; then bringing those same senses bang up to date and into the present.
Suzanne’s evocative portrayal of the fragility and frailty of the human mind is carried out sensitively, sympathetically and compassionately, in her well-developed cast of multi-faceted characters, who, whether they are on the side of good or bad, are authentically realistic and genuinely believable to the individual roles which have been created for them. Some are understandably emotionally complex and vulnerable, raw and passionate, with little or no synergy or dynamism between them. Others are unreliable and volatile witnesses, manipulative and duplicitous and whilst my feelings and emotions were really divided right down the middle, I’m not sure that I ever felt connected with, invested in, or identified with, any of them totally, although a new and brighter future is a distinct possibility for Nate, Rhoda and Isaac.
This book definitely ticks all the right boxes for the reasons I read and how I want to feel when I have finished the last word and closed that final page. Thank you for taking me on another amazing journey, Suzanne.
A complimentary kindle download of this book, for review purposes, was made available by the publisher, Head of Zeus / Aria fiction and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!
Thank you so much for taking time to read my review, I appreciate your support.