GUEST POST and GIVEAWAY
16mm of Innocence
by Quentin Smith
16mm of Innocence by Quentin Smith is currently on tour with Ravenswood Virtual Tours. The tour stops here today for a guest post by the author, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.
Imagine discovering that your father was a Nazi war criminal who escaped justice. Imagine if that was not the worst secret in your family ...
What do we really know about our parents? How clearly do we remember our childhoods? 16mm of Innocence tells the story of three estranged siblings who have reluctantly congregated for their mother’s funeral following the discovery of a skeleton in the garden of their old family home.
The story unravels as they find old 16mm home movies locked away. By watching the forgotten reels they discover shocking truths beneath their patchy childhood memories: secrets about their family, their parents, the identity of the skeleton, and the reasons behind their estrangement.
16mm of Innocence is a suspense novel with a dramatic and foreboding setting back in 1985: the Skeleton Coast of South West Africa, bathed in dense fogs that have wrecked thousands of ships over the years; and the former German colonial town of Luderitz – built on black rock and trapped between the vast Namib Desert on the east and the cold Atlantic Ocean on the west.
As the siblings try to understand what has driven them apart, the story reaches back into South West Africa’s German colonial past and the harbouring of Nazi war criminals.
Smith’s latest nail-biting thriller will appeal to fans of stories with shocking twists, as well as to fans of his previous books.
6 April 1985
6 April 1985
“Mum’s in trouble.”
Dieter fumbled with the receiver and struggled onto one elbow. The phone call had interrupted that awful recurring dream that he had experienced over so many years and it had once again left him feeling disorientated, unsettled and even worse, guilty. It was always the same.
“Who is this?” Dieter asked sleepily, his eyes gritty as he rubbed them blindly in the dark.
“It’s Otto…” Pause. “Your brother.” Dieter exhaled. He couldn’t remember when last they had spoken. “Jesus, Otto, do you know what time it is in Hong Kong?”
“I’m sorry, I know it’s early, but this is really serious.”
Through the Venetian blinds Dieter could see a filleted image of dawn shimmering across the water of Repulse Bay, where he had lived since the late 1960s. He loved Hong Kong: city of enterprise, and for him personally, city of escape.
“What’s wrong with Mum?” Dieter asked.
Otto sighed heavily. “Nothing wrong with Mum, per se.”
“What then?” Dieter said irritably.
Otto paused, as though mustering courage. “They found a body in the garden of our old house, Dieter.”
Dieter’s skin felt clammy as a vision burst forth instantaneously from the vagueness of his dream, churning his stomach.
The sleeping figure under the duvet beside Dieter stirred, and in a low voice asked who it was. Dieter hastily covered the mouthpiece.
“Who’s that?” Otto asked.
Dieter glared at his bed companion and pressed a finger against his lips.
“When did this happen?” Dieter asked.
“Mum’s just phoned me.”
“You’re talking about a… a human body are you?”
“Yes, but I don’t know the details. Mum’s pretty shaken by it all… she didn’t say much.”
“But I don’t understand… where was it found?” Dieter said.
“The big tree, remember it?”
“Uh–huh, the camelthorn.”
“Mum said a storm blew it down, and the roots must have exposed… I don’t know… bones.”
Silence for a moment, just the sound of Dieter’s breathing and a distant foghorn in the bay.
“Well, who is to say it has anything to do with Mum?” Dieter said emphatically. “I mean, it could have been there long before we arrived.”
Otto rubbed his temples. He was sitting at his desk in Durham watching his children, Max and Karl, replenish the birdfeeders under the vigilant gaze of their mother, Sabine, as darkness enveloped the grounds of his riverside garden. The boys looked up and, seeing him through the window, waved animatedly. Little Karl dropped the birdseed in his enthusiasm, spilling it all over the frosty grass.
“Mum and Dad built that house, Dieter, and planted the tree,” Otto said.
“What are you saying? It’s probably just a local Herero, been there for years before we even arrived.”
“God, I don’t know. It’s all such a shock.” Otto paused. “I’m really worried about Mum.”
“Do they know who it is – the body, I mean?” Dieter asked.
“I don’t think so, but Lüderitz isn’t a big town, so…”
“Yeah, maybe. What happens next?”
“Well, the police are investigating. Mum thinks they may want to interview us as well.”
“You, me and Ingrid.”
“I think we should fly out to support Mum,” Otto said.
“What, to Lüderitz? Christ, I haven’t been there for years.”
“Not since Dad’s funeral, actually.”
“That’s a cheap shot, Otto. I am very busy here, you know that – with the business I’ve built up and everything. I’m in the middle of a massive merger. I don’t have much idle time on my hands.”
“You mean, unlike me?” Otto finished, bristling. Silence amplified the static waves of interference on the phone line. “You could at least call her, Dieter.”
Dieter sighed. “Yes, of course I will. What time is it in Lüderitz now?”
“Early evening. How are things?” Otto asked, to avoid another pause.
“Fine, fine. What about Sabine and the kids?”
Otto never went into detail. There was little point in telling him that Max was excelling on the piano and Karl had just started at school, because from one rare contact to another Dieter could never remember which child was Karl and which one was Max. Birthdays came and went unnoticed and Otto sometimes had to make a point of reminding them who Uncle Dieter was.
“They’re all well thank you. And… er… how about you?”
“Not found the right girl yet?” Otto said.
Dieter snorted. “Not likely to, either.”
“I’ll phone Ingrid and tell her, if you prefer,” Otto said.
“Do what you like, Otto, but I won’t be calling her.”
“Have you two still not made peace?” Otto said, exasperated.
“Last time we spoke, years ago, she called me a parasite or something, living off the success of others.” Dieter made a guttural sound of disapproval. “The nerve – how many sugar daddy alimony settlements has she pocketed up to now?”
Otto was not in the mood for idle conversation and neither, it appeared, was Dieter. With the phone call terminated Otto sat in silent contemplation. He had always felt that his older brother dismissed his work as a general practitioner. It seemed to him that Dieter believed that his fortune had been forged out of determined hard work, whereas Otto was merely a public servant living off the state.
Otto heard his family entering the house, taking refuge from the biting cold outside, stamping their feet and removing coats, hats and scarves – familiar sounds of family life that cast his mind back to his childhood home in Lüderitz, and fragmented images from so many years ago.
How on earth could a body have lain buried beneath their feet all that time? To think that he and Dieter used to climb that very tree, the desert–loving camelthorn, dig holes all around it, playing with their lead soldiers and building makeshift dams in the sandy soil. He shivered. How close might they unwittingly have been to a truly macabre discovery?
Then an uncomfortable thought entered his mind. Had Mother known as she watched them playing outside? What if it was not pride and contentment that they had seen on her face as she watched through the kitchen window while they dug holes and played? What if it had been anxiety, apprehension? Could they have known the difference at their young age? And what about Father? Well, he was hardly at home often enough to have even seen them.
There surely must be a rational explanation for all of this. Dieter was probably right: Lüderitz had existed for at least sixty years before their arrival and the body could have been there all along. It was in all probability a local Herero.
“Daddy!” came the shrill call of an enthusiastic youngster bounding up the stairs.
Otto glanced at his watch. It was nearly 8pm, still early afternoon in New York: plenty of time yet to call Ingrid. For now he would play with Karl and try to banish the worries from his mind.
A beaming young blonde boy sprinted into the room with a flash of his red and yellow striped socks, flinging himself into Otto’s arms.
“Did you feed the birds?” Otto asked.
“Yes. Mummy said they must be really hungry.”
Otto smiled and kissed Karl’s fair head. The warmth and love of his children constantly surprised him. It was not something he had been accustomed to in a family. He never understood why.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]
Praise for the Book
"Reading 16mm of Innocence, I felt totally immersed in this intriguing story. Quentin's writing always has an endearing charm, despite dealing with harsh realities and dark topics. Quentin portrays his world in pin sharp detail, bringing it vividly to life around you. His characters live, their mannerisms and quirks defined with painterly precision. It was a pleasure to lose myself in the strange and hostile west African town of Luderitz with Quentin's cast of likeable misfits. I felt part of their fragmented and troubled family; I was beside them as they unearthed horrifying secrets and tried to salvage their relationships. The story, with its shocking revelations and captivating twists, had me hooked. It's the perfect blend of engaging fiction and vile historical reality. I thoroughly enjoyed this spellbinding story." ~ Antony Wootten
"Truly accomplished and compelling - rich on so many levels. Quentin has astonishing expertise at weaving historic fact into a very exciting personal thriller that both shocks and moves. An absolute must for all ages." ~ Kenteas Brine
"Great story, interesting characters and location. Many genres rolled into one and it will keep you turning pages long into the night. My mouth actually dropped open and i gasped when i realized the twist... Excellent!" ~ spook63
"Great follow up to Huber's Tattoo, certainly a page turner that makes the reader think." ~ Duncan Smith
"I thoroughly enjoyed Quentin Smith's previous books, keeping you on the edge till the very end. This one was truly amazing. I did not expect the twist that came at the end of this book. A truly amazing read and should be made into a three part drama or the likes." ~ Eve Reay
Guest Post by the Author
My Inspiration for Writing This Book
I travelled to South West Africa once in about 1985 and was inspired by the dramatic contrasts of this vast country. A savage coastline where the cold Atlantic Ocean meets the hot dunes of the Namib Desert along which the Germans staked a colonial claim in search of diamonds in the 1890s. They were driven out during the First World War but left behind them a legacy of Teutonic architecture and a tough, uncompromising spirit necessary to survive in this harsh land. Forty years later, Nazi war criminals fleeing Europe sought refuge in remote and welcoming places in many distant lands of the southern hemisphere. South West Africa’s considerable German population was not entirely unsympathetic to their plight.
This tantalizing nugget of history formed a seed around which the book took shape. A second central theme was that of forbidden love, its tragic consequences and effects on others. In this unyielding country with its enclaves of Nazi supporters, the notion of a tragic love affair between a German and a Jew that would drive a family to extraordinary lengths to avoid disgrace, evolved from a sad tale of unrequited love told to me by my late grandmother. Her sister had fallen in love with a man whom her father strongly disapproved of, and their forced separation led to her tragic death about one hundred years ago. I wanted to bring her desperately tragic story to life and it seemed to fit perfectly with the themes and plots that were taking shape in my mind. And South West Africa in the first half of the 19th Century, with its harsh rugged landscape, enclaves of staunch German colonialists in remote, foreboding locations, seemed the ideal setting.
About the Author
In addition to being an anaesthetist, Quentin Smith has a long-standing passion for writing. He has published articles and papers in The British Journal of Anaesthesia, Anaesthesia News, Anaesthesia and Critical Care, Hospital Medicine, Today’s Anaesthetist, Spark, and Insight.
Following a five-year term as editor of Today’s Anaesthetist, he undertook creative writing study through The Writing School, New College Durham, The London School of Journalism and then a coveted place on the Curtis Brown Creative fiction course in 2014.
He is the author of three previously published novels: The Secret Anatomy of Candles (Matador 2012); Huber’s Tattoo (Matador 2014); 16mm of Innocence (Matador 2015). Huber’s Tattoo was runner-up in The People’s Book Prize 2015 and 16mm of Innocence was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2016. His recent novels reveal his interest in European history and the Second World War in particular.
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