Of Darkness and Light
A Soli Hansen Mystery Book 1
By Heidi Eljarbo
Soli Hansen’s passion for art history is and always has been a way of life for her. While she spends her days working in an art shop, WWII is taking its toll on everyone. Apprehensive of the consequences, Soli avoids becoming entangled in the war resistance efforts. She closes her eyes in hopes the enemy will retreat and leave her beautiful country for good.
But when a woman is found dead in the alley alongside the art shop and a painting from the last auction goes missing, Soli is thrown into the thickest of the fray involving both Nazi art theft and the Norwegian resistance.
Once Soli finds her courage, there’s no turning back. Her personal life is turned upside-down with danger, lies, spying, and an incredible discovery.
“Chiaroscuro?” Arvid scratched his chin. “I am not familiar with that term.”
Soli smiled. “That means he painted strong contrast of light and dark.”
Rolf mumbled, “Kind of like this war. Light and dark—good and bad— interconnecting but widely divergent.”
If you turned your face away from suffering, then you could pretend it was not happening. To live in denial was easy, simple. Soli Hansen did not question where the paintings that her employer bought at auction came from, or what had become of their original owners. Sometimes, it was better not to know. Soli was sure that one day, someone, or something, would defeat the Nazis and free her people of their rule. It was not as if an art scholar could do anything about her country's occupation.
But when Mrs Gundersen dies under suspicious circumstances, and a painting goes missing from Mr Holm’s Fine Arts Shop, Soli is forced to open her eyes and confront the truth. The only way her beloved country would see the red flag with the black swastika lowered from the parliament building would be if people like her stopped being passive. After all, there was no guarantee that anyone would be coming to their aid. Soli must do her part and resist the invaders, and maybe by doing so, she could save one painting from falling into the hands of the enemy.
From the sinister sight of military planes heading towards Oslo to the discovery of a shocking truth, Of Darkness and Light: A Soli Hansen Mystery Book 1 by Heidi Eljarbo is the enthralling story of one young woman’s journey from art scholar to a Norwegian resistance spy.
There are some books that grab a reader from the opening sentence and take them upon a journey of historical discovery, Of Darkness and Light: A Soli Hansen Mystery Book 1 is such a book. Written with a sympathetic appreciation of the era that this novel is set in, and an empathic understanding of the human condition, Eljarbo has presented her readers with a book that is as riveting as it is page-turning. This is a novel that demands to be read in one sitting, for it is so tantalisingly brilliant that each page becomes a voyage of discovery. This is the kind of novel that one would happily forgo sleep to finish.
The story is told for the most part from Soli Hansen's, a young woman who has dedicated her life to art, perspective. Growing up, her brother was interested in politics, Soli, on the other hand, was looking for symbols and saints in the paintings from the Renaissance and Baroque era. They could not be more different. Soli is initially a very reluctant heroine and is, unlike her brother, incredibly naïve about what is happening around her — she is too absorbed in her work. Art is seemingly the only reason why she would break the occupier’s rules. One could perhaps surmise it is the one thing that she would willingly die trying to protect. Eva and Mary Andersen, the authors of the very secret and illegal house bulletin’s, seemingly have more knowledge about what is happening around them than their older cousin does, which is very telling. However, Soli reacts to the situation of living in an occupied country as I am sure many people would — she escapes into her own world, which so happens to be the art world. It is only when Mrs Gundersen dies so unexpectedly, and a painting goes missing from the shop that Soli allows herself to be drawn into the dangerous world of the resistance. But even then, there is a sense that she would not have joined this brave band of warriors if it were not for the plundering of the paintings of the Old Masters by the Nazis.
Soli is a very compassionate woman, but she is also very trusting, and at times I felt she was someone who could be very easily led. However, when she sets her mind to something, she is very loyal and determined to see it through to the bitter end. Eljarbo has presented her readers with a protagonist whose realism is tangible. Soli is a character whom a reader can get behind and root for. I thought her depiction was absolutely fabulous, and her story drove the narrative of this book forward. Eljarbo also reminders the reader, through her portrayal of Soli, how war can consume and change the lives of ordinary citizens sometimes for the better, more often for the worse.
Eljarbo has taken the risk of using duel timelines to tell this story. Although the majority of this book is set in 1940s Norway, Eljarbo also transports her readers back to 17th Century Malta. Eljarbo's portrayal of Caravaggio is utterly sublime. Caravaggio was an artist who captured the very essence of both the physical and the emotional in his paintings. Eljarbo has done precisely the same but with pen and ink.
There are several antagonists in this novel, but they are not always obvious, so therefore I am not going to say too much about them. What I will say is that they were masterfully drawn and wonderfully portrayed.
Many World War II novels are very graphic, very emotionally exhausting to read, but Of Darkness and Light is slightly different. There are moments of trepidation, fear, and violence, but they are not grotesquely graphic. Likewise, Eljarbo demonstrates how the Nazis deceived not only their own people but the world as to the fate of the Jews. Soli knows that some of the paintings come from Jewish households, but as to what has happened to the painting’s original owners, she remains blissfully oblivious. The Nazis in this book are feared, but Eljarbo also touches upon the subject of the women who fell in love with the young German soldiers. Through the desperate plight of Ingrid Moe, Eljarbo explores the stigmatization and the appalling treatment that these poor women faced because they dared to fall in love with the enemy. Ingrid is only in this story very briefly, but her plight was heartbreakingly tragic.
Of Darkness and Light: A Soli Hansen Mystery Book 1 by Heidi Eljarbo is a reward for any reader who adores quality World War II Historical Fiction. This is a book that is definitely deserving of your time. I cannot wait to get my hands on Book 2.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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Of Darkness and Light
Heidi Eljarbo is the bestselling author of Catching a Witch and its sequel Trailing the Hunter. She grew up in a home filled with books and artwork and she never truly imagined she would do anything other than write and paint. She studied art, languages, and history, all of which have come in handy when working as an author, magazine journalist, and painter.
After living in Canada, six US states, Japan, Switzerland, and Austria, Heidi now calls Norway home. She and her husband have a total of nine children, thirteen grandchildren--so far--in addition to a bouncy Wheaten Terrier and a bird.
Their favorite retreat is a mountain cabin, where they hike in the summertime and ski the vast, white terrain during winter.
Heidi's favorites are family, God's beautiful nature, and the word whimsical.
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