The dynamite room by Jason Hewitt is a gripping read. Wonderfully tense, it's another in the great line of novels and films about innocence meeting warped experience (think Tiger Bay or Whistle Down the Wind, To kill a mockingbird or A high wind in Jamaica). Dynamite Room also has elements of The Eagle has landed and The boy in the striped pyjamas. Having said which it's an excellent book in its own right, and is well worth reading, even if the story isn't entirely original.

Lydia is a wartime evacuee, on the run from an unhappy foster home in Wales. Arriving back at her home on the Suffolk coast (ironically enough very near to where I will be staying next week), she finds her home deserted and the villagers gone. Unbeknown to her the army has requisitioned the area and she finds herself in an isolated eerie village. Back at her home she discovers that she is not alone - a German soldier has moved into her house. Have the Germans invaded, or is there something else going on? And how does Heiden know so much about her family?

Dynamite Room really grew on me. I started off thinking that it was, at least mildly, derivative; but as the novel developed it blossomed. There's some great characterisation here. I loved Lydia, a woman-child on the cusp of adulthood. Heiden, the German, ashamed of his past, and desperately trying to make amends is a pitiful, and at times lovable, character; and Eva, the love of his life, is a beautiful heroine, the type that we would probably all wish to be, but suspect we would fall short.

The Suffolk countryside is also well evoked in this novel. The innocence and beauty of the countryside provides a fitting background for the steadfast character of Lydia, who has had her own minor brush with evil, and is ashamed, on her own little level, of her actions as the adult Heiden is of his.

Throughout the novel, open spaces are contrasted with the claustrophobic rooms where evil happens - from the dynamite room of the title to the evil mental hospital which lies at the dark heart of the story. It's a profoundly moving, and at times unsettling read, which cannot fail to make you wonder how you would react faced with the choices that Heiden and Eva were forced to make.

This is Jason Hewitt's first novel. It is beautifully written, and I can't wait to read more by him.


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