Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Keeper of Secrets - Julie Thomas - Guest post and extract

I am very pleased to welcome author Julie Thomas to my blog today, with a guest post and an extract from her novel, The Keeper of Secrets

One Thing Leads to Another
by Julie Thomas

My journey began on a summer’s day in 1998 when I was fact checking a film script I’d written called “The Price of Redemption.” It was about a movie star called Matthew Price, a widower who was saved from a drunken rampage by a journalist researching a missing Albrecht Dŭrer painting. He agreed to help her find the painting and return it to the descendants of the original Jewish owners.

The file of clippings I’d checked out from the Auckland Public Library included a magazine article about looted musical instruments. It was a long article, detailing many examples of precious instruments taken by the Nazis during World War Two. I read about Beethoven’s piano and manuscripts, Stradivari violins and Amati violas. Then I came to the part about the missing 1742 Guarneri del Gesú violin and something fired a dart deep in my imagination.

That article led me to a book about Bartolomeo Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri, del Gesù, and why his violins are so special, why they are so rare that the musical world mourns the loss of every one. I knew from the very beginning that the story would revolve around the Holocaust and the taking of possessions and lives from people who had done no wrong. One survivor story led to the next and gradually I found my characters, fathers who were blind to the impending danger, sons who fled and made it across the Swiss border to safety, males sent to concentration camps and women who joined the resistance, such as it was.

But the Holocaust was only half the story and the fall of Berlin in May 1945 led to the invasion by the Allies and the claiming of war loot. The quarter of Berlin where much of the illegal contraband was hidden was ‘liberated’ by the Red Army. So my German music major ran headfirst into the soldiers of General Vladimir Valentino. This led to a whole new subject for research, Stalinist Russia. I found so many stories of fear and persecution, paranoia and retribution. The character of Koyla was based on a real Zampolit (Political Officer) who wrote a letter to his beloved Great Father Stalin and condemned his whole family as traitors because they wanted to stay in the city and not move to a collective farm.

This is a story about possession being nine-tenths of the law, unless you stole it. Everyone has secrets and the violin has more than most, everyone has a ‘stake’, a case for retaining, or claiming, this most precious of musical instruments. Throughout this long history of researching, writing, re-writing, self-publishing and then discovery by HarperCollins USA… one thing has led to another.


“Number!” he barked.
Simon scrambled to his feet, aware that his hat was on the ground beside him.
“8467291, sir” he recited quickly, his eyes averted.
“What is that?”
                  The man was almost beside him, holding out one large hand. Reluctantly Simon handed over the violin and bow. The guard examined it carefully.
“Where did you get it? You may speak.”
“It was made….a worker in the camp, he was a violin maker, sir.”
“Did you steal it?”
“No. He…. Made it for me, sir.”
“You were a musician?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Pick up your hat. This way, now!”
Simon grabbed his hat and ran in the direction the guard was pointing. Somewhere inside him iron fingers of terror had gripped him, but the thought roaring through his head was, Who will look after Papa when I’m dead? The guard marched him into a small square building next to the SS officers’ quarters. He took a key from the pocket of his uniform and unlocked the heavy padlock on the latch.
“In here!”
Simon stepped uncertainly inside. It was one single room, lie by a central lightbulb and full of brown cardboard boxes. From floor to ceiling on all four sides were stacks of boxes. The guard shut the door behind them.

Published by HarperCollinsUSA

About the novel:

The story follows a priceless violin across generations—from WWII to Stalinist Russia to the gilded international concert halls of today—and reveals the loss, love, and secrets of the families who owned it. In 1939 Berlin, 14-year-old Simon Horowitz’s world is stirred by his father's 1742 Guarneri del Gesu violin. When Nazis march across Europe and Simon is sent to Dachau, he finds unexpected kindness, and a chance to live. In the present day, orchestra conductor Rafael Gomez finds himself inspired by Daniel Horowitz, a 14-year-old violin virtuoso who refuses to play. When Rafael learns that the boy's family once owned a precious violin believed to have been lost forever, Rafael seizes the power of history and discovers a family story like no other.

About the author:

Julie started writing at the age of eight, stories about pre-revolutionary Russian princesses who rode troikas through the snow. She has worked in the media for over 25 years, radio, TV and film. She has written three novels and seven feature film scripts. In 2011 she sold her house in Auckland and moved two hours south to Cambridge, a glorious English style village, not unlike St Mary Mede. She shares her house with a highly intelligent and manipulative, but affectionate cat, Chloe, and is passionate about music, cooking and sport. She writes from the heart about subjects that she feels passionate about and her motto is "To dream of the person you could be is to waste the person you are." And also, "It was a brave man who ate the first oyster." (from goodreads)

Visit the author's blog here to find out more. 

Extract provided by author


  1. I love stories that involve music! I'll have to check this one out.

    1. Thanks very much for commenting, Charleen. I love the sound of this one too.

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