Book Review: The Other Cipher: Soli Hansen Mysteries Book 2 by Heidi Eljarbo
Updated: 4 days ago
Publication Date: 2 December 2020
Publisher: Independently Published Page Length: 200 Pages Genre: Historical Mystery
In the captivating second book of the Soli Hansen Mysteries, two women—separated by more than three hundred years—are connected through their love of art.
1613. Fabiola Ruber is been wed to a man she does not know and must live in a country with a new language and different customs. The memories of a lost love in her hometown Malta haunt her, and she sets out to find an artist who can do her portrait and recapture the feelings she had when she once modeled for a renowned Italian master painter.
1944. Four years into World War II, art historian Soli Hansen works with the Norwegian resistance to locate significant artwork and safeguard the pieces from the Nazis. When she finds out the Germans are after a hidden baroque depiction of a seventeenth century woman, she must muster all her courage and skills to decipher encrypted codes and preserve the mysterious art before it’s too late.
Both women are determined to do what they can to bring healing and redemption to their otherwise ominous future. Through tangled, bewildering clues and an eye for detail, Soli’s bond to Fabiola grows closer by the day. She must find the missing painting before the enemy does.
Ranging from a privileged life in seventeenth century Antwerp to Oslo during the German occupation of the second world war, this dual timeline is a historical mystery thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end.
"The Nazis have not stopped looting and stealing art, so we cannot quit doing what we can to preserve and protect precious objects. These items don’t belong to Hitler and the German Reich."
They plundered the cultural property of every nation they occupied. The National Gallery of Oslo, like the Louvre in France, had taken steps to hide their precious artefacts and priceless paintings. But there were many more still in private collections—private Jewish collections.
For art historian and proprietor of Holm’s Fine Art Shop, Soli Hansen is determined to stop some of these exquisite paintings falling into the enemy’s hands. When she hears that the Nazis are searching for a hidden baroque depiction of a seventeenth-century woman, she knows she must do everything in her power to find that painting before they do. But, to find the painting, she must first decipher an encrypted code, and that she cannot do without the help of the Resistance…
With a visceral understanding of the audience this story is intended for, Heidi Eljarbo has once again presented her readers with a book that has not only been meticulously researched but also one where the narrative is so utterly enthralling that I lost all sense of time. I was immersed in a world of espionage, where the heroes were ordinary people who found themselves in an unrecognisable dark world where the victors felt that it was their right to plunder the country for the spoils. Small the Resistance may be, but their hearts beat for their country, for their compatriots and for their common cause.
The readers are first introduced to Soli Hansen in Of Darkness and Light: A Soli Hansen Mystery Book 1. Soli is an art historian who, understandably, tries to stay under the radar of the occupying forces. It isn’t until her world, the ‘art world’, is threatened that she finds herself drawn into the dangerous underworld of the Resistance. The Other Cipher: Soli Hansen Mysteries Book 2 takes up where Book 1 left off, and once again the fate of a precious masterpiece, this time one painted by the famous Flemish Baroque artist, Peter Paul Rubens, is at stake. To discover the whereabouts of the painting, Soli must first decipher an encrypted code, which will reveal where the painting has been hidden by its Jewish owner just before the Nazis rounded up his family. I thought The Other Cipher: Soli Hansen Mysteries Book 2 was a gripping account of this era in history and it shines a light on the lengths the Resistance were prepared to go to and the risks they were willing to take to undermine and challenge the authority of the occupying forces. However, unlike many World War II novels where the Resistance is portrayed as a secret underground organisation that disrupts communication and aids the allied forces, this novel instead focuses on a small group of individuals who are determined to hide priceless works of art from the Nazis. And although there are hints of the lengths the Resistance are willing to go to save lives and to make things as difficult as they can for their enemies, this novel does not focus on such things, which I found rather refreshing. This is not the kind of story where you are going to need a box of tissues with you because there is simply no need for them. Eljarbo does depict the fear of discovery, but she also describes the excitement of the hunt, of solving the puzzle and finding the prize, which I thought made this book refreshingly good.
In this novel, Eljarbo explores the roles of women and children in the Resistance. Like Soli, I too was horrified at the notion that children were used to deliver newsletters and bulletins for the Resistance, especially when the punishment, if they were caught, was so severe. But, as this novel progresses, Eljarbo reminds her readers that this was a profoundly different time to the one we live in now, and that the spirit of a nation under the shadow of occupation beat not only in the hearts of young men but children, women and the elderly as well. This sense of nationality, of coming together, gave this story a somewhat hopeful feeling that if they all stick together, they would come through these dark days and know freedom once again.
Soli is a character that I have really come to care about. Her devotion, her love of art, and her determination to make sure it does not fall into the wrong hands make her very commendable. But she is also a woman who is trying to make sense of everything she has witnessed, and the things that she learns. Her deep friendship with Heddy and her growing attraction to Nikolai reminds the reader that Soli wants what everyone wants—to be accepted, and to love and be loved. I thought Soli’s depiction was absolutely fabulous and I am really enjoying watching this character grow and come into her own.
As I have already mentioned, the historical detailing has to be commended, and this novel is backed up by confident research. Eljarbo has certainly painted a crystalline portrait of a nation under occupation. She has also depicted the seemingly unbreakable spirit of its citizens. Alongside this, Eljarbo clearly demonstrates that she has an empathetic understanding of what being human is, and she portrays the two sides to human nature—the darkness and the light.
This story is told through two profoundly different timelines, and although most of the novel is based in the 1940s, Eljarbo does sweep her readers further back in time to the early 17th Century when Peter Paul Rubens picked up his brush and painted the picture that both the Nazis and the Resistance are looking for. I thought this dual-timeline worked well, and it helped the reader to understand the story behind the painting.
Although The Other Cipher: A Soli Hansen Mysteries Book 2 does stand firmly on its own two feet, I would recommend starting with Book 1 so that you learn the background of the characters you encounter in this novel.
If you are looking for a gentle introduction to World War II novels that focus on the Resistance, then I think that A Soli Hansen Mysteries would be a fabulous series to start with. I, for one, am looking forward to reading the next book in this beguiling series.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
Heidi Eljarbo is the bestselling author of historical fiction and mysteries filled with courageous and good characters that are easy to love and others you don't want to go near.
Heidi 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.
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.