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Inheritance of Secrets - Book Review

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Published June 6th 2020
Children's author Sonya Bates leaves her comfort zone
Children's author Sonya Bates makes the plunge into adult fiction with this crime thriller set in the South Australian capital of Adelaide.

Bates, a speech pathologist by training, began writing in 2003 after moving from Canada to South Australia. Her first books were the Orca Echoes series. Subsequently, she moved into the young adult market with Topspin in 2013, which was followed by several related books. Inheritance of Secrets is her first adult novel and much of it draws from her father's personal experience as a German immigrant to the United States in the aftermath of World War Two.

Set in 1940s Europe, 1950s Sydney and present-day Adelaide, Inheritance of Secrets is a murder mystery involving the senseless killing of Karl Weiss, a German World War Two veteran living in Adelaide, and his granddaughters' search for the truth. It combines the usual police procedural with events from the past and is practically a marriage between a crime thriller and historical novel. The narrative alternates between Juliet Dunne, Karl's granddaughter and the younger Karl himself.

Gripping read: Children's fiction writer Sonya Bates' first adult novel about the murder of a war veteran and how events in the past may have played a key role in it.


Bates has put a fresh spin on the oft-repeated spiel that Nazis were monsters. In Inheritance of Secrets , it is clear that not all Nazis were bad. Some of them were just regular people, whose only "crime" was being on the losing team. The divisive nature of war is also brutally shown, as people of German descent get their country's defeat rubbed in their faces by those whose lands were under Nazi occupation during the war. The spectre of right-wing terrorism is also raised towards the end of the book, as some groups have never gotten over the dissolution of the Third Reich and are still promoting its ideas through violence.

Although what we know of Karl is mainly revealed from secondary sources, we know he is a rather complex character. He is haunted by his experiences in the Wehrmacht, displaced by the Allied occupation of post-war Germany, separated from the love of his life and indebted to an old army buddy who may have ties to the Nazi Party. Despite these hardships, he has managed to get refuge in Australia, where he built up a string of bakeries and where he is eventually murdered by people he thought were no longer in existence.

Karl's granddaughters Juliet and Lily Dunne are as different as chalk and cheese. Juliet is an acclaimed author in a relationship with a hotshot lawyer, while Lily is a drug user married to a hopeless gambler. Their grandparents' deaths bring the sisters together after being estranged for years. Juliet seems rather trusting while Lily lives in fear of her life, and rightly so. Throw in a fugitive war criminal and a couple of Nazi hunters and we have a volatile mix that makes for a tense plotline.

While this book is clearly out of Bates' comfort zone, she has managed to deliver the goods. Like Boyd Anderson's The Heart Radical, Inheritance of Secrets will certainly appeal to history buffs. The fact that it is set in Adelaide also brings to mind the mysterious Tamam Shud case.
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