Book review: Letters to the Pianist by SD Mayes

I’m always drawn to WWII stories that offer a new angle. I’ve had this one on my To Be Read list for ages, having heard brilliant things about it, and am so glad the Christmas break finally gave me a chance to read it.

In war torn London, 1941, fourteen-year-old Ruth Goldberg and her two younger siblings, Gabi and Hannah, survive the terrifying bombing of their family home. They believe their parents are dead, their bodies buried underneath the burnt remains – but unbeknownst to them, their father, Joe, survives and is taken to hospital with amnesia.

Four years on, Ruth stumbles across a newspaper photo of a celebrated pianist and is struck by the resemblance to her father. Desperate for evidence she sends him a letter, and as the pianist’s dormant memories emerge, his past unravels, revealing his true identity – as her beloved father, Joe. Ruth sets out to meet him, only to find herself plunged into an aristocratic world of sinister dark secrets.

Can she help him escape and find a way to stay alive?

My review

It’s hard for a novel to stand out in such a competitive genre but this one does. As well as being an engrossing drama about a family torn apart by war, it also shines a light on the sinister world of Nazi sympathisers hidden among British high society.

Ruth’s such a likeable character – plucky, resilient and determined to get to the bottom of the mystery behind her father’s reappearance.

I also loved the way the father Joe found himself caught between different lives – the elite family he’s married into, the children his amnesia took from him after the bomb blast, and the other woman who recognises him from the past. As the truth emerges about his identity and the political leanings of the family he’s become part of, it’s clear he and the family he left behind are in a very dangerous place.

This is an emotional, shocking and fascinating story that I couldn’t put down. What starts as an engrossing family drama develops into a heart-in-mouth thriller. I turned the pages feverishly, desperate to know how it would end.

The author took inspiration from her mother’s terrifying wartime memories for the early scenes which is probably what makes them so plausible, while her research skills as a national newspaper journalist helped her craft the Nazi aspect.

Letters to the Pianist is published by BHC and is available in ebook and paperback here


2 thoughts on “Book review: Letters to the Pianist by SD Mayes

  1. Please don’t do this to me, Katy. Another one for my tbr list.
    Great review. As you say, WW2 is a bit of a competitive market in literature at the moment. I look forward very much to reading this. Off to buy it now. xx Stay safe


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