Beneath a Veneer by Samuel Lewis – Book Review

Beneath a Veneer by Samuel Lewis – Book Review

Beneath a Veneer by Samuel Lewis

Beneath a Veneer

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You can hide beneath a veneer until someone knows where to look.

A family try to flee Lithuania as the Soviets invade in 1940. Only two make it onto the ferry in Riga and freedom. The cost is leaving behind their loved ones and an unborn baby.

Fifty-eight years later, Simon Callan’s mother tells him her story and asks him to find out what happened to the others.

His search leads him to learning of Stalin’s repressions and then the Nazi death squads. It also leads him to a murderer, a Nazi collaborator, who took part in a massacre where Simon’s grandparents were killed, and a thief, a Nazi SS officer, who stole a Swiss bank account that Simon’s mother knows nothing about.

Is it possible to find and catch a killer, whose crimes took place in 1941? And, is it possible to recover the stolen money after so many years?

Review by Julie

‘Beneath a Veneer’ is an aptly-named historical thriller from the pen of Samuel Lewis. The story is told in the third person and the past tense. We are initially presented with two different threads before we meet financial journalist, Simon Callan. He has lived a comfortable life in London, knowing little of his affluent Jewish family history, but upon the death of his father, his mother tells him the harrowing story of their flight from Lithuania in 1940. This family secret has blighted his mother’s life and seeing her pain, he quickly agrees to try to discover what happened to his grandparents and his mother’s brother, Aaron, all of whom were unable to escape before the Soviet invasion.

Simon’s mission takes him to his parents’ former home in Kaunas, a large town in Lithuania situated near the confluence of rivers Nemunas and Neris. What starts as curiosity develops into passion for uncovering the truth. Using his journalistic skills, he manages to gather together sufficient breadcrumbs which enable him to continue his quest by following the trail to Latvia and back to England. An unexpected discovery then leads him to Spain. The author lets us into the lives of the well-defined characters on all sides of these historical events and we see to what length some will go in an attempt to keep their duplicitous secrets hidden beneath a respectable veneer.

The age of the people Simon needs to find and interview dictates that the story had to be set no later than the turn of the 21st century. As these elderly men delve into their distant, yet vividly raw, memories the action occasionally dips back to the 1930s and 40s. Being present in the moment adds weight to the atmosphere of fear and dread of those who were persecuted and murdered by tyrannical regimes. Much is known and has been written about the atrocities carried out by the Nazis during the holocaust but I knew little of the pogroms. I certainly didn’t appreciate the level of brutality and genocide being perpetrated against Jewish people in Russia and the Baltic States at the same time.

I’m slightly disappointed that the synopsis gives away the fate of Simon’s grandparents. However, that is my only gripe in an otherwise enthralling read. The author demonstrates extensive knowledge and has clearly carried out thorough research to produce a work of which he can truly be proud. Each scene has been painstakingly created, with layers being built to draw the reader into the surroundings before the characters are added to move the story forward.

There are many emotions running through this story, in particular love coupled with loss. The lifelong anger and guilt experienced by the survivors of hideous persecution are, at times, tangible. In the character of Simon, the author has created a conduit for exposure and justice in the best good versus evil tradition. This powerful story will have lasting impact on its readers and I have no hesitation in awarding a well-deserved five stars.

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Samuel Lewis


Samuel Lewis is a semi-retired accountant, living in Devon. He has always had a passion for history and when not behind his desk is content to spend his time with his spaniels, walking the lanes, moors and woods of his home county.

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