Review: HEARTS OF STONE by Simon Scarrow

wpid-dsc_0162.jpgAs I have said before, I will only review books I’ve enjoyed. Well …

I’m a novelist, and I’ve written enough books to cost half the Amazon rainforest. That, for me, means I’m pretty hard to please. Especially in my chosen specialist subject of the historical story.

Historicals for me create a number of problems. First is the age-old issue of historical accuracy. How far is a novelist allowed to bend dates and facts to suit a story? With Medieval novels all too often I will spot shocking inaccuracies, not the sort of thing that others would notice, but details that jarr for me and ruin a good read. Then there are the glitches caused by more recent books in which the author seriously screws up the simple facts, like what make of gun was used by which country, whether a machine gun is belt or box-fed, and similar issues that ruin a good read for me. And that’s all before the sense of terror that I always have, worrying that one day I’ll think up and write a story, only to be reminded that it’s the same book that was written years ago, and I had forgotten, thinking it was a new idea that had just come to me …

So, when Headline sent me Hearts of Stone to read before interviewing Simon Scarrow at the Plymouth International Book Festival, I treated it with trepidation. Scarrow? He’s a really good writer of Roman war books, I know. I love his Macro/Cato Eagle series, but this thing was twentieth century, set in Greece.

My apologies to Simon, but I did suspect that he’d sorted himself a nice little holiday, and paid for it by writing a book. It couldn’t be that serious.

How much more wrong could I have been?

It starts in 1938, in the period immediately pre-World War II, with an archaeological dig on the island of Lefkas. It’s run by a German, Muller, who is convinced he’s in the right place to make a discover that will rival the discovery of the city of Troy, and it is a horrible shock to him, his son Peter, his assistant Heinrich Steiner, Andreas Katarides and Eleni Thesskoudis, a rather gorgeous young Greek woman. Peter, Andreas and Eleni are sad to be separated, but the telegram from Germany was explicit: the international situation was deteriorating rapidly and Muller and his assistants must return to Berlin.

Next, we move forward to 2013 and the harassed life of an English history teacher, Anna, who is the grand-daughter of Eleni. She is contacted by a German called Muller, who is trying to find out more about his grandfather’s time in Lefkas during the war. Anna is reluctant to disturb her grandmother, but eventually she is intrigued enough to see what she can find out. She asks, and gradually Eleni tells her story …

There are not many writers who could pull off such an engaging, startling, exciting and enormously touching story. This book rockets along, telling this tale with simplicity, but never losing sight of the vast events that were affecting millions all over the world. Simon has got into the characters, into the period, and into the motivations – and by that I don’t simply mean he understood the two sides in the war, but that he can depict modern young folk, grandparents, and all ages between. This really is an enormously impressive piece of work. In many ways it is the story of modern Greece, explaining both the problems that caused the financial crisis, and the particular hatred held by many Greeks for the Germans and the strict financial constraints imposed by German banks. However, this is much more than that: it is a great war story, it is a love story of passion but subtlety, but most of all, I think it is a story about the generations, and how younger folk can learn much from the experiences of their elders.

Basically, this book has blown me away.

Without reservation, I give this book my highest possible recommendation. It is, frankly, superb. It was a delight to read, and it is a story that will stay with me for a long time. Stunning, superb, brilliant. If you don’t read another book this year, you should read this.

Dartmoor this morning

Dartmoor this morning


5 Responses to “Review: HEARTS OF STONE by Simon Scarrow”
  1. Ok this sounds my kind of book! Nice photo too 😊


  2. sandra says:

    I read this book recently and I absolutely agree. This was a great story and the WWII info worked well.


  3. Kay Samuelson says:

    Thank you for your review of a book that I will most definitely read! I love the picture of Dartmoor you have included, too. Beautiful.


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