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Sharing our love for authors, and the stories they are inspired to tell.

The Commandant’s Daughter
by Catherine Hokin
Books On Tour
Review

My thanks go out to Sarah, representing publisher Bookouture, for saving me a place on this lovely ‘Books On Tour’ schedule.

I also need to thank the great NetGalley team, for always making life so easy when downloading review copies.

Image of the Blog Tour Banner for the book 'The Commandant's Daughter' by Catherine Hokin

THE COMMANDANT’S DAUGHTER – (Hanni Winter #1)

Cover image of the book 'The Commandant's Daughter' by author Catherine Hokin1933, Berlin. Ten-year-old Hanni Foss stands by her father’s side watching the torchlit procession to celebrate Adolf Hitler as Germany’s new leader. As the lights fade, she knows her safe and happy childhood is about to change forever. Practically overnight, the father she adores becomes unrecognisable, lost to his ruthless ambition to oversee an infamous concentration camp…

Twelve years later. As the Nazi regime crumbles, Hanni hides on the fringes of Berlin society in the small lodging house she’s been living in since running away from her father’s home. In stolen moments, she develops the photographs she took to record the atrocities in the camp – the empty food bowls and hungry eyes – and vows to get some measure of justice for the innocent people she couldn’t help as a child.

But on the day she plans to deliver these damning photographs to the Allies, Hanni comes face to face with her father again. Reiner Foss is now working with the British forces, his past safely hidden behind a new identity, and he makes it clear that he will go to deadly lengths to protect his secret.

In that moment Hanni hatches a dangerous plan to bring her father down, but how far she is willing to go for revenge? And at what cost?

Cover image of the book 'The Commandant's Daughter' by author Catherine Hokin

CATHERINE HOKIN

Image of author Catherine HokinCatherine is originally from the North of England, studied history at Manchester University, and is now living very happily in Glasgow with her husband, their children both having grown up and left home – one of them living conveniently living in Berlin, Catherine’s favourite City and the setting for two of her WWII historical novels.

Following a rather meandering career which has jumped between marketing, teaching and politics (Catherine hastily adds that readers shouldn’t try and join the dots), she has finally managed to become what she always wanted to be, which is an author.

Catherine admits to being a story lover as well as a story writer and nothing fascinates her more than a strong female lead and a quest. She always hopes that is what readers will find when they pick up one of her books.

As well as historical fiction, she write short stories which have been published in magazines including Writers’ Forum, iScot & Myslexia, and have also been placed in competitions, including first prize in the 2019 Fiction 500 Short Story Competition. She blogs on the 22nd of each month as part of The History Girls collective.

If Catherine is not at her desk, you’ll most probably find her in the cinema, or just follow the loud music!

Visit Catherine at her website

Follow Catherine on Twitter

Connect with Catherine on Facebook

“Although this is a complete novel in itself, it is also the first in a series of four which will follow the story of Hanni and Freddy as they try to navigate their way through the shadows of World War Two into a more hopeful future. Writing a series is a first for me, but it is proving to be a fascinating experience and I have grown very fond of my two central characters. the continuation of their story will take Hanni and Freddy back to berlin and to Theresienstadt, but there will also be new locations and challenges facing them. I really hope you will join me with them on their journey”

Cover image of the book 'The Commandant's Daughter' by author Catherine Hokin

FIRST LINES

CHAPTER ONE

30 JANUARY9 FEBRUARY 1933

‘It’s the procession! It’s coming!”

The sound rushed through the open glass doors, rolling round the crowded reception room in a deep-throated roar as if the sea had hurled itself inland. Hannelore drank it in, her heart hammering as a second, steadier thud pounded through the first wave. She closed her eyes, picturing the scene her father had promised – the heads thrown back, the voices swelling, the uniformed ranks marching step by perfect step through the wooded darkness of Tiergarten – and shivered.

‘Can you hear it?’

Hannelore whirled round as she spoke, expecting to see heads turning, eyes as wide with excitement as her own. Not one conversation skipped a beat. She stretched onto her toes and tried again.

‘Isn’t it time to go out onto the balcony? Isn’t it time to watch?’

Nobody stopped talking. Nobody remarked on how delightful, or even how annoying, her enthusiasm was. Nobody took any notice of her or the commotion outside at all. Hannelore’s voice floated away, sucked up into the never-ending swirl of chatter and the clinking of brimming glasses.

What’s wrong with them? Why aren’t they racing to the windows?

Their lack of interest made no sense. Why else were they here if not to watch the parade? Her father had said that it would be the most wonderful celebration to ever take place in Berlin.

Cover image of the book 'The Commandant's Daughter' by author Catherine Hokin

MEMORABLE LINES

“Grown-ups are always saying one thing and doing another – it’s not very helpful”

.

“She didn’t fully know yet how photographs were taken, or how they could be used. She was, however, beginning to learn that they had a value which went beyond the annual family portraits her mother delighted in and she was determined to understand more”

.

“She knew what home meant to her father and his kind: they used it and homeland like magic talismans, not to describe actual places, but as a shorthand for a concept of blood purity that was sick to its soul”

.

“Hanni stood up and wiped her eyes. She had to stop hiding from what had to be done for the sake of an easy life. She hadn’t earned that yet”

.

“Freddy could never know who Hanni Winter really was. That some agonies ran too deep and that, if she told him even a part of it, he would loathe her too – he would look at her and see a black uniform and a backdrop of hatred exactly as Natan had. That there could be nothing therefore between her and Freddy Schlussel but secrets. It was a fact, but it was hard to look into the dark eyes she had captured so beautifully in the photograph and accept it”

.

“There are people who do dreadful things and there are those who stand by and let them and there’s no difference between the two as far as I’m concerned. Those who know the truth have a responsibility to do the right thing: to denounce the criminal, not to bury their secrets. If they don’t do that – if they don’t allow punishment to be a possibility – then it’s simple: they share in the guilt”

.

“Over the course of a long and sleepless night with the imprint of his lips still traced on her own, Hanni had come to an inescapable conclusion: there was more pain to be had in hiding from her past than in trying to secure a better future”

Cover image of the book 'The Commandant's Daughter' by author Catherine Hokin

REVIEW

“In that moment, she knows that taking pictures is not enough, she has to help these people…”

My heart did sink a little when I read a letter from author Catherine Hokin, featured at the end of the book, in which she confirms that The Commandant’s Daughter is the first book in a planned four part series; as I am notoriously lax at keeping on top of my series reading and I have already invested in so many other series reads, that I’m not sure how I am going to cope. She did, thankfully, add the caveat that all the books would work as stand alone novels, which this one undoubtedly did, although of course, having now worked out where the series is heading I have decided that I very much want to be part of that journey, even though I know that will involve many more tears before it is over!

The story begins in 1933, in Berlin when Hitler has just come to power and where ten-year-old Hannelore Fosse lives with her parents, sister and grandmother. Hannelore’s father, Reiner, as a very zealous recent recruit to the SS, is sent in 1943, to oversee the ‘new town’ of Theresienstadt, a Concentration Camp in all but title, relocating his family with him. There Hannelore, who has become obsessed with photography, sees and hears more than one so young should, although she is remarkably mature and determinedly stoic enough to catalogue the horrendous images and events through her pictures. She is appalled by the huge change in her father, who appears to relish his duties, rather than show any repugnance for them, which puts them very much at odds and irrevocably divides them. When he knows that the game is up and defeat is staring his country in the face, Reiner sends his family back to Berlin, where one devastating event follows another and Hannelore is left alone. When Germany is finally beaten and the concentration camps are liberated, she assumes that Reiner must be either dead or awaiting trial somewhere for the heinous crimes he has committed against humanity.

Fast forward to 1946, in a post-war Berlin, which has recently been carved up by the four allied countries and Hannelore Fosse has become Hanni Winter. She realises that her father has managed to evade capture and along with so many of his fellow SS officers, has reinvented himself as his non-existent younger brother and now works for the Allies, who have picked out those Germans they feel pose least risk, to assist them in the capture of the hardcore SS for trial and to play their part in the rebuilding of a devastated city. Hanni herself, is now a skilled forensics photographer, attached to the police and working with Inspector Freddy Schlussel and his team. They are assigned to solve the case of a recent spate of assassination murders, where all the victims are former ‘whitewashed’ SS officers, who have become ‘respectable’ members of Berlin society. Hanni is still determined to bring her father to justice, although having discovered her whereabouts and made himself known to her, he makes it clear what will happen to her if she tries to turn him over to the authorities. Hanni and Freddy have a growing attraction between them, although with their disparate cultural backgrounds, is there any hope that a mutual understanding can be reached to put the past to rest and move forwards!

Those are just the very bare bones of a bold and daring, well structured, multi-layered storyline; although this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the tense, highly charged and claustrophobic atmosphere, which looms large and hangs like a cloud over both Hanni and Freddy. Author Catherine Hokin has written a wonderfully rendered, mature work of cultural and societal fiction, compassionately written from the heart, unique and unconventional, often disturbing, brutally and heartbreakingly honest; yet desperately compelling, powerful and completely immersive. Fluently seamless, slowly unfolding and evolving, the story is evocative, intensely textured, rich in detail, whilst totally and utterly emotionally draining. The visual depth to the descriptive narrative and dialogue makes this a truly three dimensional reading experience, which offers a perceptive and compelling sense of time and place, albeit a most disturbing, profoundly touching and troubling journey.

Not only can war unite a people against a common enemy, it also has the power to divide. At a family level, this can cause total and overwhelming devastation, but to a nation threatened with its very existence and survival, events of the past can have such a huge and lasting influence over the present, as Hanni the daughter of an SS officer and Freddy a displaced Jew, know to their personal cost. Can their common mutual belief in justice and retribution be enough to bind them together and help them put events of the past to one side. It might, if only they were able to talk to one another, but although Freddy has begun to open up to Hanni, she in turn, is still unable to confide in him the terrible truth about her past, at least not whilst her father still walks the same streets and breathes the same air as her. At times, their individual memories and emotions are so painfully strong and raw, they have the power to silence and paralyse them, rendering them temporarily frozen in space and time, which these days would no doubt be labelled as PTSD. Their relationship is put under further strain when the vigilante murderer is tracked down and arrested, as for different reasons, they are both rather torn about the notion of stopping the murders of those who were so instrumental in ruining their lives and by default putting up barriers between them which might be beyond breaking down. Even I was astounded to learn that both Hanni and Freddy are mistaken about Herr Bayers motives for his selection of specific victims, which in reality are totally sickening and nauseating, even for the strongest of constitutions.

Catherine has developed a cast of well-drawn, multi-faceted characters, who, whether they are on the side of good or bad, are authentically realistic and genuinely believable in the individual roles which have been created for them. All were understandably complex, emotionally starved and vulnerable, with little or no synergy or dynamism between them, which really divided my feelings and emotions right down the middle.  Many were raw and passionate, yet still authentic, genuine and believable. Others were unreliable, volatile, manipulative and duplicitous and I’m not sure that I really connected with, invested in, or identified with, any of them totally. In various guises and to differing degrees, they are all broken and damaged people, from a society which has torn itself asunder and has now been further decimated by the machinations of the victors. Hanni and Freddy will need time to rebuild their confidence, their lives, their trust, before there can be any meaningful steps towards reconciliation and a clear path forwards into the future. However Catherine has done an amazing job of giving all her characters a clear voice with which to begin telling their individual stories and I am already anticipating what she might have in store for them in the next step of their journey towards complete emotional freedom.

Image of author Catherine Hokin

A complimentary download of this book for review purposes, was made available by Bookouture 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!

 

Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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14 comments
    • It definitely captured the anger, hurt and desire for retribution, by the Jewish community who had managed to escape Hitler’s wrath.

      It also mirrored ‘true’ news articles I have read over the years, of the many German Army, Gestapo and SS officers, who managed to evade justice, reinvented themselves as ‘whiter than white’ and managed to get good jobs with the Allied Forces, who needed help with their individual administrations of the newly divided Berlin!

      Fact and fiction wonderfully blended!

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • What an interesting take on WWII and the Nazi. Her father was more than willing and that makes, for me, the book very special and realistic. Not all were willing, but there were willing Nazi all over the country and, of course, not only in Germany.
    You presented the book very nicely too.

    • Reiner was definitely a very zealous SS officer and revelled in the pain and injury he inflicted on the prisoners in his charge. Even more annoying was the fact that he survived the freeing of the concentration camps by the Allied forces, managed to reinvent himself as his squeaky clean, non-existent brother and got a job with those same Allied administration authorities, to round up his fellow missing SS and Gestapo Officers and help to rebuild a now divided Berlin.

      I would like to think that you might need a vivid imagination to make this storyline up, however I am sure that this scenario and others not dissimilar in nature, happened all too often!

      An intriguing take on the subject of WWII for sure!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

  • This sounds like an interesting storyline from a totally different perspective. Like you, I’m not keen to commit myself to a four-book series, but I might want to read this as a stand alone at some point.

    On a different note… I get so tired of the words so often found on the cover of novels these days. “absolutely heart-wrenching, unputdownable, gripping, jaw-dropping, compelling, etc.” I find it off-putting.

    • I have just been contacted by Bookouture to let me know that the second book will be available in April, so Catherine must have been commissioned to write them in quick succession, as this one only published on Amazon today.

      I’m not sure if I have the time, or right now, the will, to commit to anymore Blog Tours, so I might treat this as a stand alone story, request the further instalments and read them in my own time – we’ll see!

      I know what you mean about the words and ‘tag lines’ on book covers, however I don’t know how else you can get across in a few words, the style of writing and the genre of a story. As with the cover art itself, I suspect it is probably the publisher putting their own spin on things to try and increase sales as much as anything else!

      Mind you, the book I have just finished reading ‘The Girl With The Scarlet Ribbon’ by Suzanne Goldring (review February 25th), is another WWII story and all those words you highlight in your comment, definitely apply to it – just you wait and see! 🙂

  • When I read the book description, I got chills. This sounds like a compelling story and one, I’m definitely interested in reading. Thanks for hosting this writer and introducing the book.

    • I know exactly what you mean. So many wartime stories allude to the atrocities carried out on the ethnic minority groups in Germany and occupied Europe, however none really highlight a character quite like Reiner, who actually relishes his job with great gusto, to the point where his wife and daughter become secondary and their opinions don’t count, so brainwashed is he!

      Hanni has made it her mission to see her father and the many others like him, behind bars where he belongs and the ongoing series is going to reflect her challenge and the measures she is prepared to take to see it through!

      Catherine really does write a good, descriptive story.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, I truly appreciate it 🙂

  • This one for me I think, Yvonne. It sounds like a really different take on the war and one I ought to read. Adding it to my tbr shelf on Goodreads.

  • Hi Yvonne, this does sound like an intriguing and well written story. I’m curious about what Hanni will do about her father and whether she will turn him in. I’m glad this works as a standalone book because I’m the same way with series it can be hard to follow up and read the rest sometimes with so many other pending books. Fantastic review and stay well!

    • Hanni would like nothing better than to turn her father in, but he has already made some terrible threats about what will happen to her and any of her Jewish friends if she does.

      There is also a bit of a mystery to this storyline, surrounding a vigilante killer, who is picking off some of the German officers in hiding, so I think that Hanni is fast coming to the conclusion that her father’s demise needs to be more permanent.

      I have just signed up for the Blog Tour of book #2 (I know, I have the breaking point of a ‘crunchy bar’!!!) in April and although I only have the premise to go by right now, I can pretty much confirm that the books will work okay as stand alone stories.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and for your kind words of encouragement 🙂

  • A bit tired of World War novels many of which seem to be very much of a muchness but this sounds as if it might very well have some that little bit different to offer. As to whether or not it is sufficiently different that I’d want to commit myself to a four book series … Hmm! I’m not sure but I am hoping the library has a copy of this, the first book.

    • I have to say that I seem to have become a little ‘typecast’ with publishers looking for Blog Tour readers for WWII books. I am going to have to start requesting a few thrillers/murder/mysteries, to try and shift the balance a bit!

      This one is a little different, as it is mostly set in post-war Berlin, just as the City is being carved up by the Allies, so there is a bit more of a mystery/intrigue theme going on and the books can be read as stand alone stories, so if you don’t enjoy book #1 then you haven’t lost anything.

      The next couple of WWII Blog Tour Reviews which will appear here, both have quite unique themes going on around them, so see what you think during February, I may be able to tempt you then! 🙂

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