Who would believe a young woman who suspects that her new stepmother is hiding something sinister? At the outset of The Huntress, an utterly gripping historical thriller by Kate Quinn, Jordan McBride isn’t quite sure about her father’s new wife. There’s something off about Annaliese Weber, but nothing that Jordan can quiet express…at least until she finds an iron cross hidden inside Annaliese’s wedding bouquet. Unlike Jordan, we know exactly what’s off about Annaliese: she’s an escaped war criminal.
Three characters take turns adding to what we know about Annaliese and her crimes. But curiously, the three narrators and their own backstories threatened to overtake the main plot. From Jordan, we learn to suspect the new stepmother but slowly relax our guard because Annaliese is so good at hiding who she was. Poor Jordan ends up in the terrible position of feeling affection for a murderer. From Ian, we learn about the hunt for the smaller fish who escaped attention while the Allies rounded up the remaining members of the Nazi high command. Ian is resolute in his quest for justice, even though hurdle after hurdle is placed in his way. And from Nina (who absolutely steals the show), we learn just what it was that Annaliese did—but only after learning about Nina’s past as a member of the famed Night Witches, an all-female regiment of the Red Air Force.
In her afterword, Quinn reveals the depth of research she undertook for this novel. All that research paid off in this novel without dragging it down. Stories from surviving Night Witches became Nina’s extraordinary background while research about women photo-journalists became Jordan’s inspiration for wanting to be more than a wife and helping out at her father’s antique store. Ian’s story is based on the tireless work of people across the world who hunted down escaped war criminals in the decades after World War II. The characters and their stories are so well-realized that, even though Quinn did a graduate seminar’s worth of research, that the overall book felt completely organic and I never felt like I was being lectured.
My only complaint, as I alluded to above, is that Annaliese and her crimes get a little bit lost in everything that’s going on with the narrators. She remains a shadowy figure. But my complaint is really more of a quibble. I would worry more about Annaliese getting lost except for two things. Even though the book’s title refers to Annaliese’s nickname, it’s very much about the people who are hunting her. The other thing that eases my worry is that, as Ian and Nina say more than once, there are no excuses for Annaliese’s actions during the war. It’s not important to them why she murdered people. The only thing that’s important is that she killed innocent people, entirely of her own volition. She deserves to be in prison. She does not deserve a spotlight.
This is a long book, but The Huntress never felt too long to me. Some readers might get annoyed at how long it takes Ian’s team to finally team up with Jordan. I didn’t mind a bit. I was so hooked on Nina’s story, worried about Jordan, and hoping that Ian would capture Annaliese so that she would face justice at last. The Huntress kept me up way past my bedtime.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.