A Woman of War

Written by Mandy Robotham
Review by Jasmina Svenne

Midwife Anke Hoff is trying to bestow dignity and fleeting memories of motherhood on fellow prisoners in a Nazi labour camp. The last thing she expects is to be transported to the Berghof to supervise the pregnancy of one of Hitler’s inner circle. While she struggles with her conscience – whether to nurture her patient, no matter who she is, or to neglect her – Anke finds herself drawn to the handsome Captain Stenz, despite the revulsion his SS uniform invokes. But as the baby’s due date approaches, more than one life hangs in the balance…

Once you get over the slight improbability of the premise – surely there must have been a loyalist Nazi midwife capable of undertaking this job (though admittedly a prisoner would make a convenient scapegoat) – this book has all the ingredients for a taut thriller. There is a strong central dilemma (based on a theory touted by some historians); an in-built ticking clock; a likeable heroine pitted against a merciless regime; and the fact that the reader knows that the outcome will have to be squared with known historical fact.

And yet somehow I felt the screw wasn’t tightened remorselessly enough to make me race through the pages. Despite what she says about mistrusting everyone, Anke seems to find allies remarkably easily, and the threats against her family are not quite compelling enough. It’s as if the other-worldly atmosphere of the Berghof has infected the tension of the novel. There are a couple of minor malapropisms, most notably a woman in labour who lets out a “whelp” (really? a puppy?) at a critical moment, but otherwise the research seems meticulous. The author’s experience as a midwife shows in the births that punctuate the narrative, both in “real-time” and in flashbacks documenting how Anke came to be imprisoned. A promising debut.