Category Archives: Ronald H Balson

Review: The Trust by Ronald H. Balson

Title: The Trust by Ronald H. Balson
Liam and Catherine Series Book Four
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 367 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The newest novel from Ronald H. Balson, the international bestselling author of Once We Were Brothers, finds private investigator Liam Taggart returning to his childhood home for an uncle’s funeral, only to discover his death might not have been natural.

When his uncle dies, Liam Taggart reluctantly returns to his childhood home in Northern Ireland for the funeral—a home he left years ago after a bitter confrontation with his family, never to look back. But when he arrives, Liam learns that not only was his uncle shot to death, but that he’d anticipated his own murder: In an astonishing last will and testament, Uncle Fergus has left his entire estate to a secret trust, directing that no distributions be made to any person until the killer is found. Did Fergus know, but refuse to name, his killer? Was this a crime of revenge, a vendetta leftover from Northern Ireland’s bloody sectarian war? After all, the Taggarts were deeply involved in the IRA. Or is it possible that the killer is a family member seeking Fergus’s estate? Otherwise, why postpone distributions to the heirs? Most menacingly, does the killer now have his sights on other family members?

As his investigation draws Liam farther and farther into the past he has abandoned, he realizes he is forced to reopen doors long ago shut and locked. Now, accepting the appointment as sole trustee of the Fergus Taggart Trust, Liam realizes he has stepped into the center of a firestorm.

Review:

As with previous novels written by Ronald H. Balson, his newest mystery, The Trust, is well-researched and historically accurate. Set in Ireland, the Taggart family and its history with the IRA are under the microscope after Liam’s estranged Uncle Fergus dies under mysterious circumstances.

Although Liam is conflicted about his cousin Janie’s request that he attend his uncle’s funeral, his wife Catherine easily him to make the trip.  He is stunned to discover that Fergus made him the executor of his estate which has been placed into a trust. Equally shocking are the terms of the will and Liam finds himself on the opposite side of his cousins Conor and Riley as they attempt to remove him as the trust administrator. In between the legal maneuvering, Liam teams up with the police inspector assigned to the case to try to solve his uncle’s murder.

Liam is quite upset that he never made the effort to mend the sixteen year rift with Fergus and he is utterly confused about his uncle’s conviction that he is the only person he can trust to carry out his wishes. The terms of the will are clear but unfortunately, everything about the last few months of his uncle’s life is rather murky. Liam quickly discovers Fergus was convinced someone was going to kill him, but he was deliberately vague about who the killer might be or why he might targeted.  Liam’s family is certain his murder is a vendetta from forty years earlier, but local police Inspector Farrell McLaughlin is equally convinced the killer is most likely related to Fergus.

The investigation is slow moving and Liam also must contend with inner family squabbles, overt threats and memories of his distant past. He vacillates back and forth between abdicating his responsibilities and returning home, but his remorse over his role in the longstanding estrangement is a powerful inducement to carry out Fergus’s last wishes. He is also a bit angst-ridden over Catherine and their baby’s safety but his wife is equally certain the threats she is receiving are nothing more than a bothersome nuisance. Even when the killer begins targeting other family members, Liam and the police are still unable to discern a motive for the murders and without a motive, it is even more difficult to narrow down the suspect list.

Rich with historical details, The Trust is an intriguing mystery that old and new fans of the Liam and Catherine series will enjoy.  Although the investigation into Fergus’s murder is interesting, readers might a little frustrated with the lack of progress and the narrow focus on a list of very obvious suspects while glaring inconsistencies with other characters are ignored. Catherine is a little blasé about her and their baby’s safety and Liam comes across as rather unfocused as he deals with the emotional aspects of his unexpected family reunion. Despite a few minor irritations with the mystery aspect of the storyline, Ronald H. Balson provides a fascinating look into Ireland’s deeply troubled past between Protestants  and Catholics that still reverberates amongst its citizens today.

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Filed under Contemporary, Liam and Catherine Series, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Ronald H Balson, St Martin's Press, Suspense, The Trust

Review: Karolina’s Twins by Ronald H. Balson

Title: Karolina’s Twins by Ronald H. Balson
Liam and Catherine Series Book Three
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary, Historical (WWII), Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

She made a promise in desperation
Now it’s time to keep it

Lena Woodward, elegant and poised, has lived a comfortable life among Chicago Society since she immigrated to the US and began a new life at the end of World War II. But now something has resurfaced that Lena cannot ignore: an unfulfilled promise she made long ago that can no longer stay buried.

Driven to renew the quest that still keeps her awake at night, Lena enlists the help of lawyer Catherine Lockhart and private investigator Liam Taggart. Behind Lena’s stoic facade are memories that will no longer be contained. She begins to recount a tale, harkening back to her harrowing past in Nazi-occupied Poland, of the bond she shared with her childhood friend Karolina. Karolina was vivacious and beautiful, athletic and charismatic, and Lena has cherished the memory of their friendship her whole life. But there is something about the story that is unfinished, questions that must be answered about what is true and what is not, and what Lena is willing to risk to uncover the past. Has the real story been hidden these many years? And if so, why?

Two girls, coming of age in a dangerous time, bearers of secrets that only they could share.

Just when you think there could not be anything new to ferret out from World War II comes Karolina’s Twins, a spellbinding new novel by the bestselling author of Once We Were Brothers and Saving Sophie. In this richly woven tale of love, survival and resilience during some of the darkest hours, the unbreakable bond between girlhood friends will have consequences into the future and beyond.

Review:

Based on real life events, Karolina’s Twins by Ronald H. Balson is a riveting novel about a Holocaust survivor’s search for her best friend’s twin daughters more than 70 years later.  Although this is the third book featuring lawyer Catherine Lockhart and private investigator Liam Taggart, it can be read as a standalone.

At 89 years of age, Lena Woodward might be feeling the physical effects of her advanced years but her mind is still sharp as a tack.  Realizing she is running out of time to fulfill a long ago promise, she contacts Liam and Catherine to help her locate her childhood friend Karolina Neuman’s twin daughters whom she has not seen since they were just a few months old.  Lena and Karolina are childhood friends whose lives were torn apart when the Nazis invaded their hometown in Poland.

Forced to work as seamstresses in a coat factory, the young women manage, with the help of Karolina’s German lover, to survive extreme conditions.  Not long after Karolina gives birth to twin daughters, the coat factory shuts down and the women are sent to Gross-Rosen concentration camp where they are forced to work as slave labor. Knowing the babies’ fate if they arrive at the camp, Lena and Karolina take drastic measures that will hopefully save the girls from a horrific fate.  After surviving Auschwitz, Lena marries and moves to the United State but the fate of Karolina’s twins weighs heavily on her mind.

Needing to know whether or not the girls survived, Lena hopes Liam and Catherine can trace the girls’ whereabouts. However, her son Arthur is convinced she is suffering from dementia and his efforts to have her declared incompetent could interfere with their efforts.  After so many years have passed and hampered by the impending court case, will Liam and Catherine uncover the truth about what happened to Karolina’s twins?

Lena’s life in Poland was rather idyllic in the years before the Nazi occupation.  Her parents are well-respected shop owners in the Jewish community where they live a rather comfortable life.  Her friendship with Karolina begins while they are attending public school together and although Lena eventually transfers to a private school, they remain close friends.

As the Nazis begin rising to power, Lena’s father starts making arrangements for the family to immigrate from Poland, but the Germans invade Poland before they are able to leave.  Stripped of their business and forced to adhere to the strict rules all Jews must follow, Lena’s father is a member of the Polish resistance.  After he and the rest of the family are selected for “relocation”, Lena, now a teenager, remains in hiding until their home is taken over by Germans and she begins searching for her missing family.

Finding shelter in the ghetto, she works in the coat factory where she is reunited with Karolina.  Conditions are almost unbearable as the young women live without running water, electricity and heat as they work long hours in the factory.  Food is strictly rationed and as winter descends, the harsh weather and  poor nutrition take a horrific toll on the people living in the ghetto.

In the midst of this unimaginable horror, the birth of Karolina’s twins is an unexpected bright spot but as the war continues, the Nazis put their plans in motion to exterminate the Jews.  More and more Jews are sent to concentration camps where children, the elderly and the infirm are separated and sent to their deaths.  Those who are healthy are selected to work as slave labor but their lives are often cut short as malnutrition, harsh living conditions and illness take their toll.  Knowing full well what will happen to the babies, the women make a split second decision to try to save them from certain death but this choice haunts Lena for the most of her life.

Interspersed with Lena’s account of her wartime experiences is Arthur’s effort to have her declared incompetent.  He is quite odious and it is difficult to ascertain his motives for  the case.  Is Arthur genuinely concerned for his mother’s health?  Or are his reasons financially motivated due to his mother’s wealth?  His heavy-handed tactics and sneering conversations certainly cloud the issue and leave everyone wondering what he hopes to accomplish with his actions.

Although some of the dialogue is a little awkward and the court case is a little overly dramatic (and unnecessary), Karolina’s Twins is an absolutely compelling novel about Lena’s experiences as a Jewish woman living in Nazi occupied Poland.  Ronald H. Balson deftly blends fact with fiction and brings this fictionalized account of actual events vibrantly to life.  This  poignant story is a gripping and educational read that I highly recommend.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Historical, Karolina's Twins, Rated A, Review, Ronald H Balson, St Martin's Griffin