Last year I read The Fox in the Attic by Richard Hughes and enjoyed it less than I thought I would (see my blog Wartime Fiction). So, I decided not to read the second book in the series The Wooden Shepherdess. This meant relief that I wouldn’t have to deal with the fact that the author died before completing the trilogy. However, for Christmas my mother gave me The Wooden Shepherdess and in June I finally got around to reading it.
It was a pleasant surprise. It is a book that spends the first one hundred pages literally in the backwoods of America, as the protagonist Augustine finds himself hiding out in the woods in a small rural community involved in prohibition-era alcohol smuggling across the Canadian border. After his car ends up in the bottom of a dam he has enough and realises that if he can get to Canada he’ll be able to get home to England despite having lost his passport, thanks to Canada being a British dominion.
Back at home his sister Mary suffers a major riding accident when out on the Boxing Day hunt and Augustine devotes himself, alongside her husband, to looking after her in her Dorset stately home. But he then gets itchy feet again, avoids marriage and goes off to Morocco.
Meanwhile, the rest of the book is set in Germany and tracks the rise of Adolf Hitler, picking up after the Munich Putsch and this time covering the 1934 Rohm Purge. Otherwise known as the ‘night of the long knives’, this was when Hitler consolidated his power by murdering his rivals and critics of his regime. Augustine’s niece is drawn into Hitler’s web, as her teenage obsession with him lands her having tea with Hitler at the Berchtesgaden, before promptly being sent back to England by her Swiss finishing school.
Needlessness to say, after ploughing my way through these two substantial volumes, I found myself by this point very much in need of knowing what would happen to the characters as the build up to the second world war continued. I felt almost cross with Hughes for dying before he had the chance to complete the final installment. Tantalisingly, at the end of book two, you get the first twelve chapters of the third novel that he had written before his death. Having started this series unimpressed, I was left at the end wanting more.