A Letter From Munich: A Jack Bailey Novel - Book Review

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A Letter From Munich: A Jack Bailey Novel

Author: Meg Lelvis
Genre: Fiction - Historical
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Date Published: April 9, 2020
ISBN-10: 1684334470
ISBN-13: 9781684334476

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GoodReads Rating:
3.84

Book Review of :  A Letter From Munich: A Jack Bailey Novel



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From the opening preface to A Letter from Munich by Meg Lelvis, through a flashback to 1930s Germany, this mystery novel compels the reader to delve into the fascinating world of WW II secrets and lies. Lelvis loses no time in introducing the protagonist Jack Bailey’s mysterious decades-old letter that might reveal the shadowy past of his father, John, who was a soldier during the war. What might be in the letter and its significance is not immediately divulged, however. 

Jack, an ex-detective with the Chicago Police Department, accepted his ex-partner and friend, Karl Scherkenbach’s, invitation to accompany him on a short visit to Munich. Karl, nicknamed Sherk, visits his family yearly therefore his invitation was nothing out of the ordinary. Jack graciously accepted, but there was an ulterior reason behind his acceptance. His real purpose of going was to investigate a 60-year-old letter.

Through missing persons type sleuthing, the men discover that the woman referred to in the ancient letter is Ariana, an elderly German woman currently residing in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer's. Unable to meet with her, they discover her younger sister, Renate, who is also living in the facility but is mentally alert. Renate can have non-family guests and welcomes the two men for a visit. The plot grabs the reader’s attention and curiosity as Jack decides to share the content of the letter with her.

The personalities of the two friends counterbalance one another and are juxtaposed to the character of Renate, an elderly German lady who fleshes out much of the backstory of the letter. The story is recounted in dialogue with phrases and comments in the German language.

To answer Jack’s questions, Renate first relates her own back story of living in pre-war Munich in a world of secrets and the power of propaganda. Through her oral memoir, the history and sense of place experienced by ordinary folks during wartime Germany come alive. She tells of the horrors of war hiding under the noses of German citizens and how acceptance of the Nazi dogma was the only way to stay alive. After the war, the remaining population tries to forget, but the scars remain. Renate’s personal experiences during and after the war jolt Jack into recalling his own back story of losing his wife and young daughter to an IRA bombing in Ireland, leading to PTSD.

Renate entrusts a worn, leather-bound journal to Jack telling him that it had been written by his father in response to Ariana’s insistence. Jack discovers that his father’s journal recounts some terrible moments he witnessed during the war. Most gut-wrenching was his description of his discovery right outside the Dachau Concentration Camp. His father writes of his platoon coming upon a chain of abandoned railroad cattle cars (given the name the Dachau Death Train) that were filled with dead and dying prisoners. His previous war experience had not prepared him for the immense horror of what he encountered there. Parts of Lelvis's narrative is neither easy nor pleasant to read but renders a dark part of history that needs to be remembered. There are acts of kindness and decency in the tale to spur the reader onward. Lelvis's choice of words adds a significant emotional tone to the story, which she relates with objectively, simplicity, and grace as she describes the indescribable. The grisly scenes described in his journal recall the ghastly terror of “Shindler’s List" depicted. Jack’s knowledge of the horrors his father witnessed puts a new perspective on the abusive treatment and alcoholism his father displayed on his return from the service.  His discoveries of his father’s plight during the war gave him a new understanding of who John Bailey was.

Now that Jack has dug up the past and learned much more than he expected, he returns to his home in Chicago. He has to decide what part if any of his discoveries about his father’s life during the war he should share with his brother, sister, and mother. He has to deliberate, “what is the boundary between a person’s right to the truth and the right to keep painful secrets?”

Lelvis has written an emotionally charged novel of family skeletons. A Letter from Munich is touching, frightening, and revealing; it is one of those books that should be required reading in our educational system. It is evident that Meg Lelvis has invested immeasurable research into the time and place of her settings and in her characters. Readers will enjoy her other Jack Bailey novels.


Reviewed by: Carole W

About Meg Lelvis


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Meg Lelvis grew up in northern Minnesota and taught English and psychology in Houston and Dallas. Her fiction and poetry have won awards from Houston Writers Guild and Houston Writers House. Her first novel, Bailey's Law, won the 2017 Maxy Award for best mystery. Meg's second Bailey novel, Blind Eye, was released in April 2018. It won Maxy Award's runner-up for best mystery in 2018.

She is excited about her third Bailey book, A Letter from Munich, with April 9, 2020, as its release date.

Meg resides in Houston with her husband and dog, Robby.





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