Many thanks to Graeme of Graeme Williams Marketing for my wonderful hardback proof copy of the book.
Out January 2023, My Father’s House is a literary thriller based on the true story of an Irish priest in the Vatican, who rescued victims of the Nazis in Rome, right out from under the nose of his SS officer nemesis. It’s a powerful, unforgettable novel from a master of historical fiction about love, faith and sacrifice, and what it means to be truly human in the most extreme circumstances.
September 1943: German forces occupy Rome. SS officer Paul Hauptmann rules with terror. The war’s outcome is far from certain.
An Irish priest, Hugh O’Flaherty, dedicates himself to helping those escaping from the Nazis. His home is Vatican City, the world’s smallest state, a neutral, independent country within Rome where the occupiers hold no sway. Here Hugh brings together an unlikely band of friends to hide the vulnerable under the noses of the enemy.
But Hauptmann’s net begins closing in on the Escape Line and the need for a terrifyingly audacious mission grows critical. By Christmastime, it’s too late to turn back.
I only remembered after reading the book that this story is based on real events during the Nazi occupation of Rome. It is a fantastic story which underlines the risks seemingly ordinary people were prepared to take.
The story revolves around Irish priest Monsignor Hugh O’ Flaherty who is based in the Vatican during the war years. He is the glue that pulls together a city-wide operation to hide, feed and finally transport escapees. He manages the operation through a small choir who meet regularly in the safety of the Vatican. Only O’Flaherty knows everything, while everyone else has only specific knowledge.
The book covers the period up to Christmas 1943 when the transport of a large number of escapees is planned. At the same time the Nazi’s grip on Rome and The Vatican is tightening.
The structure of the book is very interesting, most of it is told as later interviews with members of the Choir, who each have their own perspective. Each is looking back over different periods of time and putting their versions on record in different ways. This is interspersed with contemporary commentary and O’Flaherty’s own thoughts. The style draws you in, as just as the fog is lifting the narrator and the time changes and we move on to learn another part of the puzzle. All the time the clock is ticking, the noose is tightening.
As the war nears Rome we see O’Flaherty turn from consoling priest to activist, confused by the Vatican’s attitude towards him and slowly gathering a likeminded group around him. The character is well drawn, O’Flaherty is sociable and engaging, but also devout and sincere. People trust him, both the man and the priest. Wherever he goes he locks horns with his nemesis, Paul Hauptmann, who ends up chief of the army in Rome. The cat and mouse between the two is well written, with Hauptmann wondering why the priest is so difficult, waiting for him to make a mistake, and O’Flaherty believing Hauptmann can be redeemed.
As the night of the transfer approaches the tension rises, O’Flaherty has to take more risks, the net closes in and the lives of O’Flaherty, the choir and dozens of escapees are put in peril as O’Flaherty hurtles across Rome. As the days and then hours pass the narrative becomes more gripping, the desperation and anguish are vivid as the final hours and minutes are seemingly filled with hopelessness and doubt.
This is a cleverly written story that believably moves from one man’s war to a thrilling, headlong race against time.
My Father’s House is released TODAY!