COMMENTS – a selection of Readers’ reviews
David Laws’ latest thriller is an intriguing mixture of human compassion and technical anticipation.
Set mainly in the railway yards of Munich, the story centres on two characters of very different backgrounds, linked unknowingly by their earlier separate involvement with the kindertransports – trains bringing to the UK children fleeing from the Nazi threat.
Claudia is a the mother of one such child, driven by guilt at letting him go, who leads a double life as teacher in a state school by day and carer by night for nearly 30 orphans hiding from the authorities.
Peter, temperamentally a children’s entertainer, is the unlikely leader of an expedition to destroy a technically advanced train. Laws draws on the well documented plans that Hitler had for such a railway which could play a major role in sustaining the Nazi dominance of Europe but he anticipates by 80 years the German success with hydrogen-powered locomotives.
Claudia and Peter are both supported – even manipulated- by a network of German railway workers and their families who are unsympathetic to the Nazi regime but are understandably reluctant to take action themselves. Peter is also dominated by his father’s expectations, but assisted by his Swiss uncle, and a long suffering soldier called Williams, who have small but significant parts in the story.
There is an inevitability about the technical aspects of the story, but also some unexpected human twists particularly near the end.
Once again, Laws weaves a yarn about a few people into a backcloth of important historical events I think this is the best of his novels so far.”
– Tim Mobbs
The detailed research, not only into the lives of ordinary people in 1940s Munich struggling with deprivation, but also the incredible concept of the Breitspurbahn, so indicative of the mindset typical of The Third Reich.
Very well written – with absolute attention to detail, David Laws has brought together the reluctant hero ‘no warrior’ Peter and the brave, humble Czech teacher, Claudia. A story of bravado and integrity which intertwines sacrifice and humanity but also which has massive implications of helping to curtail the Third Reich war machine ploughing through Europe. A thoroughly good read.- Maggie Humphries
For me, there is real importance in the first few paragraphs, this story didn’t disappoint. We are taken on a heart-rending journey involving snotty-nosed children, filthy, frightened fugitives from an unbelievably dreadful war.
‘You know what happens to people the state does not like.’ Hints of a personal enigma. Descriptive narrative provides interest and atmosphere. David’s research is clearly extensive. A super read. – Christine Leishman.
The Fuhrer’s Orphans is David Laws third book. It is set in Munich in 1940 and the story centres on German teacher, Claudia Kellner, who finds an unlikely ally in Peter Chesham, a British spy. With 30 Jewish orphans at risk of being discovered by the Nazis, both Claudia and Peter have to make life changing decisions that could bring danger, fear and horrifying consequences if they are caught. From the beginning of the novel, I felt as if I got to know the characters and empathised with each one’s situation, greatly helped by the level of interesting detail provided, and the writing style of the author. David Laws has mastered the art of combining fact and fiction to produce a book that I was unable to put down but didn’t want to end. – Eileen Brown
There were heroes working undercover dodging the brownshirts and Gestapo in wartime Germany, intent on sabotaging the Nazis’ military might. Those special people are the stars of David Laws’ latest novel The Fuhrer’s Orphans.
Pacifist-leaning middle-class Peter would have preferred to start work as an engineer with a British railway company, teaching skiing in his spare time.
But somehow he allows himself to be recruited to help stop a wayward American inventor giving the Nazis a giant logistical leap forward with a hydrogen-powered super-train system.
The British railway hierarchy, still obsessed with steam engines, has already snubbed the inventor’s train of the future, so he is on a mission to prove the conservative Brits wrong – and is convinced that Hitler will win the war anyway.
Peter parachutes on to a glacier in southern Germany and disguises himself as a Deutsche Reichsbahn footplateman to gain access to a secret rail depot in Munich. His double life becomes even more complicated when he encounters Claudia, an emigre schoolteacher from Prague who is trying to help a group of children living wild in the area around the rail depot.
They are surviving after their Jewish parents were rounded up the Gestapo.
With the help of “friends” at the Munich rail depot, Peter and Claudia join forces – and the super-train becomes key to their chances of escaping with the children to neutral Switzerland.
Can they manage it surrounded by Nazi sympathisers and the constant threat of being discovered? Read the book to find out. – Ray King