World War II thriller has surprises aplenty

Jan Jones

Judy Gardiner’s “Who Was Sylvia” had an extremely complicated storyline that ended with some unexpected events.

The story opens with Katherine “Kit” Coryn in a German hotel room. She can’t sleep due to the anticipation of finally seeing her beloved sister Sylvia in the morning. During her musings she unwittingly begins writing her life story.

Sylvia has always been very beautiful, bright, popular and full of life, while Kit is rather plain and quiet. The sisters share a special bond.

Kit is devastated to find that 18-year-old Sylvia is gone. Her parents will only say that Sylvia went to London and will not be coming back. When Kit declares that she will find her, they insist that Sylvia won’t be found.

Kit soon traces Sylvia to a job she held soon after completing a secretarial course. But Sylvia quit, leaving no hint of why or where she was going. Kit takes the same secretarial course, then signs up for the Women’s Air Corps. Within months, she is stationed in London and launches her search for Sylvia. Kit doesn’t know where to start, but she just begins asking around.

To her amazement, some people do remember Sylvia but don’t know where she is. During her search, Kit meets RAF bomber pilot David Magnus. Soon the two are deeply in love.

Life around London is very dangerous due to constant bombing. She finds a woman who says Sylvia was having an affair with her husband before he died. Kit is shocked but must admit she really doesn’t know who Sylvia is anymore. Sadly, most of what she learns points to a rather questionable life. None of it dissuades Kit.

When David’s plane crashes during a bombing raid, he is declared missing in action. His loss is devastating for Kit and David’s mother, but they support one another are carry on, just like so many others must do.

The war has finally ended, and Kit can begin to plan for a civilian life. To ease her pain, Kit resumes her search for Sylvia and this time gets a break. Apparently, Sylvia married a young German doctor named Kurt Wenz just before the war. When he was called back to work in German hospitals, Sylvia went with him.

Kit is horrified to learn that Wenz was one of the big names in the Reich’s atrocities performed in the concentration camps. How could her sister have married such a monster? With a little help, some well-placed bribes pay off and Kit manages to make contact with Sylvia.

Like London, Berlin is a shell of its former self. Those still in the city huddle in the remains of buildings with little food, heat or electricity. The reunion is awkward, but the sisters quickly make plans to return to England together. That’s when Gardiner starts to spring some of the surprises I mentioned at the start, but rest assured the book ends with the sisters safely back in England.

Your public library has shelves filled with books worth your time. Go in today and check it out.


Title: Who Was Sylvia?

Author: Judy Gardiner

Publisher: Sheridan

Year punblished: 1994

Number of pages: 207