Book Review: The Last Innocent Hour by Margot Abbott.

the-last-innocent-hour-by-margot-abbottNo. of Pages: 599 pages (although in iBooks, it was shown as 1,251 pages)

Publisher, Date: Sand Hill Review Press, June 2017

Author: Margot Abbott

Setting: Berlin, Germany

SynopsisIt is 1946 and Berlin is a ruined city, the Nazis vanquished, but memories of the city in 1934 haunt Sally as she returns to investigate war crimes as an army intelligence officer. Her father was the American ambassador to the new Third Reich and Sally was too naïve to understand the corruption and depravity underneath the shiny surface of banners and marching men. Childhood summers at a Bavarian lake made her believe she knew Germany. 

Her job, which helps expiate her old guilt, is analyzing photographs; she is no longer innocent of the evil done by the Nazis. In the American sector offices, Sally finds friendship with the other members of her unit, especially with Tim Hastings. His easy, relaxed friendship is a balm to her frozen heart. She does fear he will despise her when he learns about her past, especially her marriage to Christian Mayr, an SS officer. 

He was a rising officer under the command of General Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the dreaded secret police. Apparently supporting the young couple, Heydrich’s manipulations instead tore them apart, nearly taking Sally’s life, certainly shredding her soul. She does not know what happened to Christian. 

Sally studies a series of pictures documenting a wartime atrocity, a reprisal by the Nazis after the 1942 assassination of Heydrich. Stunned, Sally believes she can recognize the SS commander as her husband. It is logical that Mayr was sent to revenge his chief. 

But Christian was also Sally’s loyal childhood friend, and then her passionate husband. Sally believed in Christian, in their love and she believed that Berlin and Heydrich could not touch them. Now, in 1946, she understands love does not always triumph, but how could Christian have become the man in the photograph? And is he still alive?

There’s one thing you should know about me.

Make me watch a horror film, I’ll sit as far at the back of the cinema as possible with my eyes closed and my fingers shoved into my ears.

But give me a historical fiction novel on World War 2 and I’ll be glued to the book. I will stop to eat (though sleeping in questionable as I’ve sacrificed sleep before just for the sake of reading) until I’m done. Yup, that’s me. For some unknown reason, I’m able to read and digest the terror and destruction wrought upon mankind by the Nazis or the Japanese, the torture and suffering faced by the prisoners-of-war (POWs). But horror flicks have left me terrifed at night, unable to even use the toilet out of fear that there is something waiting to get me.

So here’s what I have today. The Last Innocent Hour by author Margot Abbott was, by far, the most emotional novel I’ve ever read during the World War 2 timeline. It was painful to read mostly because of Sally Jackson’s (the main female character) involvement with her childhood sweetheart, Christian Mayr. Now that wouldn’t have been a problem if he wasn’t drafted into Hitler’s world as an SS officer. Sally Jackson is the daughter of Lowell Jackson, an American ambassador in Berlin, and falsely believes that her position could protect her from the wily charms of the SS General Reinhard Heydrich, Christian’s boss.

All’s fair in love and war could have been the only tagline in Heydrich’s head. After all, he was the mastermind behind all the gross atrocities towards the Jews and he does have the last say of what Christian Mayr should or shouldn’t be doing. If Sally wanted nothing but love from Christian, then Heydrich would do anything to make sure it happened. Of course, having a German police general as your matchmaker is the last thing you’d want. But Sally just couldn’t stay away from it all, and it was her naivety and gullibility that led to her downfall.

I’ve taken a long break from reading anything to do with World War 2. Only because the books tend to mess with my mind. But I do kind of miss it, really. Like I mentioned above, it is strange how I can tolerate reading so much of this suffering, torture, pain and death surrounding this dreadful period. How dark and depressing it was back then. But I found it hard to put the book down.

One thing did cross my mind about The Last Innocent Hour, though. The total number of pages given in iBooks was 1,251 pages. However, on Goodreads, it was 599 pages. I’m not sure what’s up but 599 pages is nowhere near 1,251 pages. Although reaching page 599 or 600 would just mean I’m halfway through reading the book.

As I neared the end of the story, I realised how far I’ve come and it has been a turbulent, rollercoaster ride of emotions. It was the most painful story I’ve read in 2018. Dramatic, yes, I know it’s just a story but the author was pretty good! The way the story was written left me reeling. The book made me feel so much for Sally Jackson that after awhile I had to take a break from reading. Imagine sticking your head down into the Pensieve only to have all sorts of nasty things exploding in front of your eyes. I had been so sure that Sally and Christian would rise from their doom. Then I wasn’t so sure anymore.

It took me a little over four days to finish reading this. I found it hard to tear myself away and even if I did, just for awhile, I found myself being dragged back into the plot. Sally and Christian’s relationship was doomed from the start the moment the latter grew up into a fine young man. Sally had been too trusting to notice the cracks forming and even if she did, she couldn’t call it off for the sake of her own sanity. Instead, she got drawn in deeper and deeper into a labyrinth of lies and deception. At first, I thought she was being silly. I did tire of her stupidity and blindness to the SS General’s dirty tricks. But even I had begun to ask the same questions as Sally had in her head. Was Christian for real? Or was he just following the general’s orders? Eventually, I got as confused as Sally. Did he truly love her as he claimed to have?

The book was so enthralling and captivating. It hooked me in right from the start. Margot Abbott is a truly remarkable author. Her writing style made me feel as if I was another character in the book with everyone else. It made me feel the way Sally felt. Long after finishing the book, I coulnd’t determine if I was still in the book or came back to reality. I should have pinched myself.

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