Monday, April 2, 2012

Review and Giveaway: The Bridge of Deaths by M.C.V. Egan

The Bridge of Deaths is an interesting bird.  It’s part fiction, part non-fiction, part years-long research odyssey, part “what if” conjecture.  Its author, M.C.V. Egan, was kind enough to sit down for an interview as well as offer up a copy of her book for a giveaway.  For the interview you can see here, and for giveaway specifics and entry rules you can see the bottom of this entry.  And trust me, I think you’ll want to check out that giveaway.

The Bridge of Deaths revolves around a airplane that went down in Danish waters in 1939.  That plane, a Lockheed Electra, was carrying the author’s maternal grandfather, a Mexican national and employee of Standard Oil of New Jersey, as well as a German Lawyer, a British parliamentarian, another employee of Standard Oil, and the pilot and copilot.  Only the pilot made it out alive.  Mrs. Egan has spent decades of painstaking research trying to piece together what happened, how the plane went down, and why her grandfather died.  She decided to put it down on paper as a novel but found that the story needed something in addition to the facts—something that could only be conjectured and guessed at.  And so she decided upon a mix of the two.

At the opening of the novel, a pair of mostly-fictional characters named Bill and Maggie meet in a London book store and quickly fall in love.  Bill tells Maggie about his recurring nightmares regarding the crash of a plane with the registration number G-AESY.  She convinces him to see a hypnotist, who guides him in his first past life regression.  The experience convinces both him and Maggie that in a past life he was the pilot of that doomed aircraft.  They begin to research the event, trying to learn more about the crash and hopefully bring some closure to Bill’s dream.  In the process, they run across an online listing from an American woman named Catalina (the author’s semi-fictional avatar in the story) requesting more information about the G-AESY crash.  After contacting her, the two women become fast friends.  Catalina shares her research with the couple, and they share with Catalina the results of Bill’s past-life regressions. 

But rather than answering their questions, the information they find only spawns more.  None of the documentation seems complete.  It’s filled with inconsistencies, and those details that are present contradict the events of Bill’s past life regressions.  The cast of characters aboard the doomed aircraft also serves to sow seeds of doubt.  There was the German lawyer with his war medals and his glass eye.  There was the English parliamentarian, a man of fiery temper and wit who was making waves in the political world.  And then there was Catalina’s grandfather, a Mexican oil man who spoke five languages, studied in America and Europe, and was practically tailor-made for the spy trade.  It all happened in the shadow of WW II, a fast approaching conflict that everyone knew was coming but no one knew how to stop.  The possibilities for what could have happened are endless.  In reality, though, finding out what actually happened is impossible.  Mrs. Egan tries to stick to the truth in her tale—she leaves it open ended, a fact that strengthens her work more than anything.

It’s a great lesson in history.  What we know of history is really a story—there are good guys and there are bad guys, and there’s a linear plot from A to B to C.  But that’s not history.  That’s how we’ve codified history into easily digestible chunks.  It’s what we tell each other and teach our kids and build our family identities upon.  Real history, however, isn’t a story.  It’s messy, and it’s unknowable—at least, in any true sense.  And while we might like to turn it all into an easily understood story, the truth is often far more complicated and far more nebulous than we can wrap our heads around.  It may not have been Ms. Egan’s primary purpose in her story, but it came across beautifully. 

Another aspect of her book that I really liked was the painstaking research she included.  The story was rich with details about pre-war Europe and the personalities that inhabited it.  When it came to sheer detail there may have been a little too much in parts, but it was easily ignored and—for her purpose as the what-if-historian—likely added more to the work than it detracted.  After sinking so much time into the research (two decades, she tells me), I can understand how hard it have been to cull all that information into a more accessible format.

As for what I didn’t like, I felt that the language in the story was a bit simplistic—not that it was bad, mind you, just that it lacked the stylistic panache that I admire in good writing.  Ms. Egan tells it like it is in no-nonsense prose, which becomes the historical researcher in her but doesn’t necessarily make it the most artful of deliveries.  Likewise, I felt that the relationship between Bill and Maggie and some of their interactions were a bit hurried, presented in too-plain terms that “showed” too little and “told” too much.  All of this is forgivable, however, as the main purpose behind her work is to examine the crash of the G-AESY and the many possible causes, and that she does amazingly well.

If you like a good historical quandary, meticulous research, or quests for the unknowable, you’ll like this book.  As for me, I give The Bridge of Deaths three stars—really more like three and a half, but I only have graphics for whole star ratings.  It’s a cruel world, I know.  Be sure to check out the interview with Mrs. Egan and enter for the drawing of a copy of the book (see below for details).


Now it’s time for the swag.  The author has been kind enough to offer up a paperback copy of The Bridge of Deaths, available for free to one lucky resident of the US.  For those of you who don’t live in the land of the free and home of the brave, fear not.  She’s got a copy in ebook format with your name on it.  So wherever you live, give the dice a shake and let ‘em rip by signing up through the Rafflecopter widget below.  Entries will be open until midnight, Sunday April 8th, 2011, after which I’ll notify the lucky winner.

This being my first time using Rafflecopter, there may be some technical difficulties.  Please let me know if you encounter any problems, and as always, good luck!







a Rafflecopter giveaway

11 comments:

  1. Yay!! Thanks for reviewing this book- I've been eagerly anticipating your review. I entered the raffle and am looking forward to checking it out myself. It sounds fascinating! Great review, as always.

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    1. Thanks, Erin. I'm glad you liked the review.

      I don't see your entry on the rafflecopter widget. Did you use it to enter? If it's not working I can just add you manually... I think. I'm kind of new with this too.

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  2. This sounds really good - I love historical books that mix fact with fiction. And, as for the review, itself...well, the only adjective I can come up with is "God-like." LOL! Oh, yea, I am in the raffle(!)

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    1. You know what they say--flattery will get you everywhere. Thanks for stopping by, Libby, and good luck!

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  3. Sounds interesting...

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  4. I was going to say boo about it only being available of U.S. residents, but luckily I kept reading. I'm in!

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    1. Sweet! I manually added another entry for you, since you both (1) commented and (2) are already a follower. Now you've got double the odds ;)

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  5. Thans for doing such a good job with this, I wanted to know more about boo and author, this was helpful indeed!

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    1. Why thank you, Lisa. Thanks for stopping by and for following, and good luck in the giveaway.

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