Best of 2018 “Historical” Category

“The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris (Harper Paperbacks; September 4, 2018):

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

 

 

 

 

“I Was Anastasia” by Ariel Lawhon (Doubleday; March 27, 2018):

Russia, July 17, 1918: Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.

Germany, February 17, 1920: A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal in Berlin. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia.

Her detractors, convinced that the young woman is only after the immense Romanov fortune, insist on calling her by a different name: Anna Anderson.

As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre, old enemies and new threats are awakened.

 

 

“A Treacherous Curse” by Deanna Raybourn (Berkley; January 16, 2018):

London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything . . .

 

Suspense Magazine (S. MAG.): What is the best book you read in 2018?

Deanna Raybourn (D.R.): Usually this is a question I struggle with because books are like puppies, and I just want to show all of them the love, but hands-down—CIRCE by Madeline Miller. I was lucky enough to read it on vacation in Greece, and it was the most unimaginably perfect reading experience, never to be duplicated, I fear.

 

MAG.: Hollywood pitches are very brief. How would you pitch your book to the movies in ten words or less?

D.R.: “Downton Abbey” meets The Mummy on a very special episode of “Sherlock”.

 

MAG.: What does having your book chosen as a “Best of” by Suspense Magazine mean to you?

D.R.: It means that the genre I love so much loves me back. And to the eight-year-old girl reading Agatha Christie, that is everything.

 

MAG.: If you could be a superhero, which one would you be? And what is that one special gift of his/hers you want to have and why?

D.R.: No question—Wonder Woman. My Twitter bio even ends with: “I still believe if I spin fast enough I’ll turn into Wonder Woman.” I was a child of the ‘70s, so every week I watched Lynda Carter show the world how to be a brilliant, beautiful badass who always saves the day. She’s strong and powerful, but we also get to see her kindness. And I will never get over wanting Themyscira to be real.

 

MAG.: Finish this sentence: If I wasn’t an author, I would be ___________.

D.R.: A 19th-century courtesan dying genteelly of consumption.

 

“Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency” by Dan Abrams & David Fisher (Hanover Square Press; 6/5/2018): At the end of the summer of 1859, twenty-two-year-old Peachy Quinn Harrison went on trial for murder in Springfield, Illinois. Abraham Lincoln, who had been involved in more than three thousand cases—including more than twenty-five murder trials—during his two-decades-long career, was hired to defend him. This was to be his last great case as a lawyer.

What normally would have been a local case took on momentous meaning. Lincoln’s debates with Senator Stephen Douglas the previous fall had gained him a national following, transforming the little-known, self-taught lawyer into a respected politician. He was being urged to make a dark-horse run for the presidency in 1860. Taking this case involved great risk. His reputation was untarnished, but should he lose this trial, should Harrison be convicted of murder, the spotlight now focused so brightly on him might be dimmed. He had won his most recent murder trial with a daring and dramatic maneuver that had become a local legend, but another had ended with his client dangling from the end of a rope.

The case posed painful personal challenges for Lincoln. The murder victim had trained for the law in his office, and Lincoln had been his friend and his mentor. His accused killer, the young man Lincoln would defend, was the son of a close friend and loyal supporter. And to win this trial he would have to form an unholy allegiance with a longtime enemy, a revivalist preacher he had twice run against for political office—and who had bitterly slandered Lincoln as an “infidel…too lacking in faith” to be elected.

“Lincoln’s Last Trial” captures the presidential hopeful’s dramatic courtroom confrontations in vivid detail as he fights for his client—but also for his own blossoming political future. It is a moment in history that shines a light on our legal system, as in this case Lincoln fought a legal battle that remains incredibly relevant today.

 

Suspense Magazine (S. MAG.): How would you pitch your book to the movies in ten words or less?:

Dan Abrams & David Fisher (D.A. & D.F.): Lincoln the lawyer, in his own words, defending a killer.

 

MAG.: What can fans expect to see from you in 2019?:

D.A. & D.F.: America’s history is replete with extraordinary trials that have shaped our laws and our culture. In 1915 former President Theodore Roosevelt was sued for libel for calling a politician corrupt. In his long-overlooked testimony Roosevelt provides an insight into political reality that is just as applicable today as it was more than a century ago.

 

MAG.: If you could write a message to future aspiring authors and place it in a time capsule to read years later, what would you write?:

D.A. & D.F.: Follow your curiosity and it will lead you to a fulfilling career.

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