Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Review: Almost Home by Pam Jenoff

My hand rises instinctively to my waist but closes around air.  Damn, I've left my gun at the flat.  Despite Maureen's warning, I didn't think I'd need it, not here.  Hearing another crackling sound, I jump.  The noise comes from ahead of me now, but it is more muted, farther away.  Probably just a squirrel.  I shake my shoulders, trying to cast off the chill.  There's no one here.  I am not reassured.  The instinct of knowing when I am being watched is one that I have honed well in this line of work, and I am seldom mistaken.  Casting a final glance into the thick fog in front of me, I turn and run swiftly toward home.  (from Almost Home, page 217 in the hardcover edition)

Pam Jenoff's Almost Home follows Jordan Weiss, an American Foreign Service Officer with a lot of baggage.  She has nothing more than casual relationships with men, and the fact that she moves around a lot for work means her apartments are virtually empty.  The book opens with Jordan asking for a transfer to London -- a place to which she vowed she'd never return -- so she can be closer to her long-time best friend, Sarah, who is suffering from ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease.  The last time Jordan was in London, she was a carefree college student at Cambridge, a coxswain for an eight-member crew, and in love with Jared.  It was Jared's drowning death shortly before graduation that scarred her, sent her away from the city she loved, and caused her to lock the past away forever.

Jordan is ready to take on her new post in an investigation into money laundering and the Albanian mob, and she finds herself attracted to her colleague Sebastian.  But before she can get settled, the past is pushed front and center.  Chris, a friend of both Jordan and Jared and a member of the crew, solicits her help in proving that Jared's death may not have been an accident.  Jordan doesn't want to revisit the painful memories, but she forces herself to consider that Jared may have been murdered -- and it might have something to do with his dissertation on the escape of Nazi war criminals from Germany following World War II.

There is a lot going on in Almost Home, from the mob investigation and the suspicious circumstances surrounding Jared's death to Jordan's conflicted feelings for Chris and Sebastian and her worries about Sarah, but Jenoff does a great job integrating the plot lines and making the story easy to follow.  The book is told from the first person point of view of Jordan, so readers can feel her sadness, her confusion, and her fear as she realizes her life is in danger.  Though I sometimes questioned Jordan's actions as a diplomat -- mainly in the way she questions people of interest, possibly revealing too much before building trust -- I felt she was a well-rounded character.  Jenoff makes Jordan come to life, and I could understand her motivations, like her despite her flaws, and even relate to her on some levels.  She also does a great job building tension and releasing the details a little at a time so I didn't figure everything out too soon in the book.

Almost Home is a fast-paced novel with a little bit of everything -- drama, history, action, romance -- and I found it easy to become so absorbed in Jordan's world that it was hard to put the book down.  I was happy to learn that a sequel will be released this summer!  In addition to Almost Home, I encourage you to check out Jenoff's other novels, The Kommandant's Girl and The Diplomat's Wife -- especially if you like stories with World War II connections.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of Almost Home from the author for review purposes.


Serena said...

I really enjoyed this novel, though some of Jordan's actions were a bit over-the-top.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've read a number of reviews on this one, and other books by the same author. Don't know how I've missed him, with WWII being a favorite topic of mine. I think I have enough to do another year or two of WWII War through the Generations!!!

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like a good one to me! I love fast paced books and all the other things you mentioned are icing on the cake.

Stephanie said...

This sounds intriguing! :-) Thanks for the terrific review.

Staci said...

I've read a lot of great reviews on this one and it is definitely on my book radar!!

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Hi Anna - I like the sound of this one! I like reads that move quickly :)

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I read this and enjoyed it a lot. I do want to read her other books as well.

Suko said...

Terrific review! I think I'd enjoy this book as well.

Darlene said...

Great review Anna. I enjoyed Pam's novel as well and liked Jordan. This book certainly does have some of everything and I'm looking forward to the sequel for sure.

Jennifer said...

I'm really interested in this book. I feel like almost every review I've read about it is a positive one and I love all the elements it has.

Anna said...

Serena: True, but they were interesting nonetheless.

Sandy: Two or three or more at least. You should see the stack of unread WWII books on my shelf!

bermudaonion: I hope you give a try!

Stephanie: And there's a sequel! Can't wait.

Staci: I hope you get a chance to read it.

Sheila: I hope you give it a try.

Diane: Definitely read her other books. I loved them!

Suko: Thanks! Hope you get a chance to read it.

Dar: I was so excited when I heard there was a sequel coming.

Jennifer: Hope you get a chance to read it!