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The Huntress

By Kate Quinn, A thrilling story full of intrigue and adventure about hunting down a Nazi war criminal

In The Huntress, Kate Quinn once again has penned a thrilling and captivating piece of historical fiction. This time around, it’s about tracking down a Nazi war criminal.

Quinn’s previous book, The Alice Network, was about a female spy who is recruited during WWI and was very well received. The Huntress came out earlier this year and has been similarly praised.

I’m a bit picky about stories set around World War I or II since there tend to be a lot of them, so I like to choose mine carefully. However, the reviews of The Huntress have been compelling and enough people whose opinions I trust about these sort of things seemed to like Quinn’s books, so I picked this one up from Spectator Books (a nice little bookstore in Oakland) and put it at the top of my to-read list.

Plot Summary

For the Detailed Plot Summary, click here or scroll all the way down.

In The Huntress, Nina is a former Soviet aviatrix who is trying to track down a Nazi war criminal known as die Jägerin, The Huntress. The Huntress disappeared after the end of the war, but is known mainly for offering survivors refuge and then murdering them.

Nina joins forces with Ian, a former war correspondent whose younger brother was murdered by The Huntress.

Meanwhile, Jordan is a young woman and aspiring photographer in Boston who is suspicious of a woman her father has recently married. Annaliese is beautiful and caring, but clearly has something she’s hiding.

As Nina, Ian and Jordan’s paths converge, they’ll need to come to terms with their pasts and utilize all of their collective skills in order to bring justice to their elusive target.

Night Witches Rufina Gasheva and Nataly Meklin

Female Aviators known as the Night Witches, Rufina Gasheva and Nataly Meklin

Book Review

I was hooked by this book pretty early on, probably by about 50 pages into it. The plot kicks off right away, and it’s a story that teems with adventure and suspense. The lively narrative zig zags across multiple countries and continents, and jumps back and forth across various time periods before and after World War II.

Like with The Alice Network, Quinn works in a factual, lesser-known facet about women in history to serve as an integral part of her story. In this case, it’s about a group of Soviet female aviation units, known as the Night Witches. In The Huntress, the character of Nina is a former Night Witch, and Quinn is able to tell their story through her.

It’s a lengthy book, but one that flies by surprisingly quickly. Quinn is a capable and experienced writer and it shows. She moves the story confidently along, in a way where it’s easy to get lost in the pages of her thrilling and suspenseful plot.

The narrative is upbeat, with elements of suspense, adventure, action and some romance. In terms of the substance, The Huntress is more plot-focused than literary, but it never feels like it’s poorly written because of it.

For example, I wouldn’t describe this as a character-driven story, but it does have unique characters with clear personalities. I liked that they didn’t feel like “stock” characters or silly stereotypes. The novel switches back and forth from the three main characters’ various points of view, and it’s a pleasure to get to know each of them.

If you’re going to read this book, I highly recommend reading the book’s notes at the end as well. In it, Quinn talks about little details she culled from real life and what she based her characters on, which are a great addition to the book.

Book Review: Some Criticisms and (Maybe) Anachronisms

While I have a few minor criticisms, I should first mention that I enjoyed pretty much all of it regardless.

The romances were a miss for me, as they seemed unnecessary, but I didn’t mind it. I also was hoping for a little more of a mystery element to the plot or a few surprises along the way, but instead it’s a more straightforward story than I was expecting. Oh, well. I do think the lack of surprises made the lead-up to the end a little less impactful or suspenseful though.

There’s also two cheap “cliff-hangers” in the book (where you think something has happened, but soon find out it was nothing), which I didn’t love especially because the exact same thing happens during both of them. But that’s such a minor thing it’s barely worth mentioning.

The other bit of criticism I had was that it seemed like some of the phrasings or colloquialisms used may have been a little anachronistic. A few things just sounded a bit too modern to my ear, considering most of the book takes place 70-75 years ago (1944-1950).

Just looking at the first few chapters for example, the phrase “get laid” is used to refer to sex. The first (evidenced) usage of this phrase is in 1952 (if that website is to be believed), a few years after the book concludes.

Similarly, the phrase “coming in like a wrecking ball” sounded like it was straight from the Miley Cyrus song. Wikipedia seems to think that wrecking balls weren’t even really in common usage until the 50’s and 60’s, so I’d be surprised if that many people were using it metaphorically (and in exactly the same phrasing as Miley), but who knows.

Putting someone’s “feet to the fire” is also an idiom that the internet seems to think is more of a post-WWII phenomenon.

That was all in the first 30 pages or so. I didn’t comb through the rest of the book in the same fashion, but I assume you’d find more of the same. But again, I think I’m being a little nit-picky. There’s nothing blatantly anachronistic, so it’s not something that detracts from the story.

Read it or Skip it?

I was expecting to like this book, but was still surprised when it surpassed my expectations.

While I think the story would have benefited from a little more of an element of surprise and mystery, it’s still an exciting and enjoyable novel, with a nice sense of action and adventure as well as a full cast of fleshed-out, interesting characters. I read it effortlessly in one weekend, and I quickly ordered The Alice Network right after.

If you like historical fiction, I’d recommend that you take a look at this book for sure. For people who only occasionally read historical fiction, I’d still recommend it as well if you like novels of the page-turner variety. It’s a fun, uptempo and accessible read that delves into a small, but interesting piece of history.

Have you read this or will your read it? What’d you think? See it on Amazon.


Detailed Book Summary (Spoilers)

Prologue

The book opens by introducing The Huntress, a woman who invited a group of six Jewish escapees into her home near Lake Rusalka and executed them and committed other atrocities. She was the mistress of an SS officer and disappeared after the end of the war.

Part I

Chapters 1 - 7

1950 in Cologne, Germany (Ian)

Ian Graham and Anton "Tony" Rodomovsky discuss the Huntress (a.k.a. die Jägerin), who they are searching for. They are a two-man team that hunts down war criminals. Ian is a former war correspondent, and Tony is younger and an interpreter.

They have a lead in Austria, and there's also woman who once met the Huntress who is on her way. Her name is Nina. Ian reveals that she is technically his wife, who he hasn't seen in five years.

Ian married Nina when she was in war-torn Poland to help get her to England. Ian had been there trying to track down his younger brother, Sebastian ("Seb"). He found Nina instead. She claimed she knew Sebastian and had seen The Huntress kill Sebastian at Lake Rusalka.

Nina also told him that Seb had promised to help get her to England. Ian married her to help fulfill Seb's promise but he actually hardly knows her. They were supposed to divorce after six months but Ian got too busy to deal with the paperwork. Nina wants to help them find The Huntress.

1937 in Siberia (Nina)

Nina Graham, formerly Nina Borisovna Markova, grew up in Siberia with an abusive father. When she was younger, he tried to drown her once, and now she fears the water. In 1937, Nina is 19. She longs to escape Siberia and her father. When a pilot lands nearby, she's inspired to learn to fly planes. She takes all the money from the house and runs off.

1946 in Boston, Massachusetts (Jordan)

Jordan McBrideis a 17-year-old girl. She likes photography and has a boyfriend, Garrett Byrne. Her mother died when she was seven. Her father (Dan McBride) has been dating and then gets engaged to Anneliese ("Anna") Weber, who is a war widow. Annaliese has a 4-year-old daughter, Ruth. Annalise's late husband was Kurt, but she is very reluctant to talk about him.

Annaliese is nice, but Jordan thinks there's something off about her. Annaliese does not like photos, but Jordan manages to get a photo, though Annaliese looks menacing in it. At Annaliese and Dan's wedding, Jordan finds a Nazi war medal (swastika) hidden under the ribbon of Annaliese's bouquet.

Chapters 8 - 13

1950 in Altaussee, Vienna (Ian)

Tony and Ian head to Altaussee, Vienna to follow the lead on The Huntress. They meet Helga Ziegler and Klara Gruber. Klara had worked as a maid in a house were the wife of another Nazi war criminal lived (Vera Eichmann). Some Nazis fled there after the war, including The Huntress's lover, Manfred von Alenbach.

Klara saw The Huntress there, noting the scar on The Huntress's neck (Nina says that Seb was the one who gave The Huntress that scar). The Huntress left the house in the fall of '45, but Klara delivered a letter to The Huntress's mother in Salzberg before she left. Klara gives them the address.

Nina tells Ian more about herself as well. She says she was enlisted in the Soviet forces, but left. She ran into Seb while he was escaping from being a POW (prisoner of war). They teamed up. However, Nina refuses to tell Ian details about their eventual encounter with The Huntress, saying that it's her and Seb's story. Nina says Ian knows what he needs to, and if she sees The Huntress, she will recognize her.

1941 in Sibera (Nina)

Nina is now 23 and a trained pilot, flying a U-2. On the radio, they hear that Germany has attacked the U.S.S.R., breaking the Soviet-German pact. Nina goes to enlist but is rejected, since no women are allowed in aviation units. Her father tracks her down, calls her a bitch, but encourages her to go kill some Germans. As the U.S.S.R forces lose ground to the Germans, the Soviets finally form female aviation units.

Marina Mikhailovna Raskova is a Soviet hero and is in charge of the female aviators. Nina goes to Moscow and appeals to her directly and is accepted. She's sent to academy, where she meets and befriends Yelena Vassilovna Vetsina, a fellow aviatrix.

1946 in Boston, Massachusetts (Jordan)

Jordan asks Ruth about her mother. She knows Ruth and Annaliese previously lived near a lake in Altaussee. Ruth says her mother once played violin for her (Annaliese doesn't play). Ruth also mentions that they were once attacked by a refugee woman when they were in the Altaussee, and she ended up with a bloody nose.

Later in the year, Annaliese mentions a man named Manfred, who she then says was her father, but Jordan thinks it's weird Anna refers to her father by her his first name. Jordan goes through Annaliese's things and finds a photograph of Annaliese with a man, dated March 1942, and snaps a photo of it.

Chapters 14 - 20

1941 in Moscow (Nina)

Nina trains hard as a navigator. She is assigned to the night bombers along with Yelena, flying a U-2 together. The male pilots give them a hard time, so all the aviatrixes are eager to prove themselves. The first combat mission is for three planes, but only two come back. They realize death, capture or torture is a real possibility. Nina and Yelena name their plane Rusalka (which means water nymph and has a dangerous connotation in Russia) and become lovers.

1946 in Boston, Massachusetts (Jordan)

On Thanksgiving, Annaliese confronts Jordan, and Jordan finally accuses Annaliese about lying about who she is. Joran says that the photograph she found shows that a) Annaliese isn't Ruth's mother (because she should have been eight months pregnant in the photo and she's not) and b) the man in the photo must have been an SS officer (a paramilitary Nazi organization). Jordan also mentions the swastika Anna walked down the aisle with.

Anna tells Jordan and Dan that it's all true, that she found Ruth and pretended to be her mother so she could keep her, to protect Ruth. And that the man was her father, but she didn't know he was an SS officer until later. She walked down the aisle with the medal since it reminds her of him, but later threw it into the lake.

1950 in Salzburg (Ian)

Ian, Tony and Nina go to visit The Huntresses's mother. Her name is Gretchen Vogt and records show she has one daughter, named Lorelei Vogt. Tony poses as a former Reich solider. The mother tells them that she receives letters from her daughter that are posted from America, the last one from Boston. While the mother is distracted by Tony, Nina snatches an photograph with The Huntress/Lorelei in it from the attic.

Ian is worried because they don't have jurisdiction in America. If they found her, she'd need to be extradited. Nina says it doesn't matter, she'll just kill The Huntress. Ian disagrees, saying that vigilante justice is wrong. They argue. Eventually, Nina promises not to kill The Huntress, and they all head to Boston.

Part II

Chapters 21 - 27

1942 in the North Caucus Front (Nina)

Nina and Yelena have been flying missions for months now. One of the women overhears a German call the Nachthexen, the Night Witches, as the approach. They decide to adopt the nickname for themselves.

One night, Nina and Yelena get shot down. They manage to get the plane back, but it's a rough landing and Nina hurts her arm. Yelena is assigned another navigator while Nina heals up. That night, Marina Raskova, their leader and hero, ends up in an accident and dies. Marina is given a funeral with full military honors. After the funeral, Stalin comes by to greet Marina's unit.

1950 in Boston, Massachusetts (Jordan)

Jordan and Garrett are now engaged, soon to be married. Garrett has recently gotten his pilot's license. The family has put the Thanksgiving incident behind them. Jordan's father owns an antique shop and last year they hired a restorer that Annaliese knew from Salzburg, which gives him more free time. Dan's a little suspicious of him though, since he seems to have German guests in the store all the time.

Her father goes on a turkey hunt while Jordan and Anna shop for wedding dresses. On the hunting trip, Dan has an accident and dies. Jordan later finds out the ammunition for his shotgun was incorrect, causing it to explode and kill him.

Jordan goes to the shop after the funeral and a man shows up looking for a job. It's Tony. Jordan offers Tony the job.

1950 in Boston (Ian)

Tony reports back that he's made contact. He'll be working as a clerk at McBride's, a store which Gretchen Vogt had said had a reputation for dealing documents to war criminals. Ian and Nina have also started sleeping with each other.

Chapters 28 - 33

1950 in Boston, Massachusetts (Jordan)

Jordan and Annaliese are sorting things out after Dan's death. Anna mentions that she used to have a dream about a night witch coming to kill her. It went away after she married Dan, but now it's back. Anna also brings up that she thinks Jordan doesn't really want to marry Garrett.

Annaliese has sorted out the will, and it stipulates that the store belongs to Anna for her lifetime and then will be passed down to Jordan and Ruth. Jordan suggests giving Ruth violin lessons, but Anna doesn't like that idea.

Anna encourages Jordan to go to college or pursue photography instead of working at the store. Jordan realizes she does want to try photography. She begins working on a photograph series to start building her portfolio. She wants to move to New York.

When she suggests putting off her and Garrett's engagement (again), she and Garrett end up breaking up.

1943 on the Russian Front (Nina)

During one bad mission, four planes are shot down. Nina is promoted to pilot. Galina Zelenko will be her navigator. Nina watches as new recruits come in and are awed by her and the other more senior flyers. Yelena talks about settling down with Nina after the war.

1950 in Boston (Ian)

Tony asks Ian for help, since he's not making much progress getting information from Kolb at the antique store. Ian and Nina decide to pose as a police inquisitor and secretary. They confront Kolb. Ian demands to know who he has helped procure fake documents for, but he denies it all. Ian is tempted to beat him for information, but stops himself.

As Nina and Ian stake out Kolb, Ian tells Nina about his fear of flying. He has a reoccurring nightmare about parachutes. When he was a war correspondent, he watched a soldier he'd been talking to named Donald Luncey die after their parachutes got caught up in trees. Ian survived, but Donald didn't.

Ian suggests that Nina stay on with him and Tony after they find The Huntress. Nina recoils at the idea of being part of a team and refuses.

Chapters 34 - 39

1944 on the Polish Front (Nina)

Nina finds out she is to be made a Hero of the Soviet Union, a huge honor. However, before this happens, she gets word that her father has been denounced. This means she will soon be arrested and put on trial as well, since they typically arrest all family members as well.

Nina decides to flee, knowing that even if she somehow was acquitted, she would never be permitted to return to her life as an aviatrix. She begs Yelena to come with her, but Yelena says she can't give up her family and country for her. Nina is heartbroken, and flies off alone.

The Night Witches know she is fleeing, and there's a tacit understanding that they'll pronounce her dead and keep her secret. Nina flies as long as the plane can go, ending up in a clearing in a forest in Poland. Two weeks later, she meets Sebastian.

1950 in Boston (Ian)

Ian and Tony are at their apartment in Boston. Ian is playing violin when Jordan shows up with Ruth, looking for Tony. Ruth is captivated by Ian's violin playing, and Ruth reminds Ian of Seb.

1950 in Boston, Massachusetts (Jordan)

Jordan sees how happy Ruth is playing violin. Ian offers to give Ruth a few lessons, and Jordan says she'll make sure she finds Ruth a violin. Jordan tells Ruth not to tell her mother, saying it'll be their secret. And Annaliese is going to going out of town to New York and Concord for a few weeks.

Tony flirts with Jordan, and asks her to dinner. She says no, but Tony convinces her to let him come with her to take some photographs and serve as her assistant. At the shoot, they get to know each other. Jordan realizes Ian is a famous war journalist whose column she used to read. When it's over they kiss and plan another date.

Chapters 40 - 48

1950 in Boston (Ian)

Ian and Nina go road tripping to visit some addresses where they think Nazis are living (obtained from Kolb's records), but it's all dead end. German war criminals for sure, but not The Huntress. They get accosted by some men who realize Nina is a Russian (commie, etc.), and Nina is delighted when she realizes Ian can fight.

Ian realizes he's in love with Nina, but also that she's unlikely to want to stay with him. She reminds him they still need to deal with their divorce and he agrees.

1944 on the Polish Front (Nina)

Nina comes across Seb and another POW, Bill, who had escaped but have been recaptured by Germans. She kills the German soldiers. Seb had been a POW for four years. Seb's leg injured, so they agree Bill will go and leave Seb behind. Nina decides to stay with Seb until his leg is healed.

Seb lacks survival skills, so Nina agrees to help him, and in exchange, Seb promises to help her get settled in England when the war is over. They come across Lake Rusalka and a house by the lake.

1950 in Boston, Massachusetts (Jordan)

Jordan and Tony visit an airfield for her photo series, where they run into Garrett who has been working at a small airfield. He's friendly, but it confirms to her that she is right not to marry him. Jordan and Tony sleep together.

Anna gets back from her trip early, and Jordan walks in on Anna and Mr. Kolb in a fight. She also gets the feeling Anna is trying to get her to move to New York as quickly as possible. Jordan does some digging around and realizes Anna has lied about where she's been the past few weeks.

Jordan wants to confide in Tony about her concerns over Anna, and goes to his apartment. He's not home, but she's able to get in and wants to wait for him. There, she finds the file on The Huntress and begins to read.

1950 in Boston (Ian)

Ian, Nina and Tony return to their apartment to find that their door is ajar. On the photo of Lorelei Vogt, Jordan has written "Lorelei Vogt is Anna McBride".

Part III

Chapters 49 - 59

1950 in Boston, Massachusetts (Jordan and Ian)

Jordan rushes home. She has pieced together that Lorelei must have come across the real Annaliese Weber and baby Ruth in Atlaussee. She must have killed Annaliese into order to take on her identity in order to get to America. Jordan gets home and pretends she's crying about a broken heart. She says she wants to take Ruth out for ice cream to help herself feel better.

Ian, Nina and Tony head to the McBride house as well.

Before Jordan can leave the house, Anna stops her. She says she knows Jordan has been inquiring about her savings accounts, and knows something's up. She pulls out a pistol and shoots a warning shot. Jordan tries to keep her talking and asks questions about her past. She admits to killing Dan.

Anna tells Jordan she's leaving, and that if Jordan or anyone else tries to come after her, she'll kill Ruth and then herself. When Ian, Nina and Tony arrive, Anna is already gone. Jordan suggests she may have gone to get some stuff from their cabin at Lake Selkie, since the key is gone. Anna will be about 30 minutes ahead of them.

Jordan asks Nina if she is the witch that Anna has nightmares about.

1944 at Lake Rusalka (Nina)

Nina and Seb end up near the lake cabin where The Huntress is, and she invites them in for food. Seb wants spend the night, but Nina thinks she's dangerous because she's German. Nina leaves without him, but watches the house.

Nina sees them standing by the lake, and she sees The Huntress shoot Seb. Nina attacks her, but is only able to cut her neck before having to flee without getting shot.

(Nina has been reluctant to tell the details of this story to Ian, because she originally told Ian that Seb was a hero and fought The Huntress, etc.)

1950 in Boston, Massachusetts (Jordan, Nina and Ian)

Knowing they need to catch up to The Huntress, they ask Garrett to borrow a plane. Nina shuts off the engine as they reach the lake to cut out the noise. They land safely.

As soon as they get there, they hear Anna calling Ruth that it's time to go. While Tony grabs Ruth and pulls her into a car, Anna pulls out her pistol. Ian and Jordan approach her, trying to talk her down. Before Anna makes a move to escape, Nina jumps out of the water, cutting her arm, but not killing her.

Anna agrees to go back to Austria to be tried for war crimes. When Anna gets home, Tony says Ian and Nina are going back to deal with the Austrian authorities, but he's going to stay in America for a while.

Back in Vienna, Ian pens a story about The Huntress. He plans on going back to America for a while to stay with Tony and Jordan. He asks Nina to join him, and she says yes.

Epilogue

1951 at Fenway Park (Nina)

Tony is now enrolled at Boston University, studying law. Nina and Ian have been pursuing cases for the Nazi war criminals they located during their road trip searching for The Huntress. Jordan is working as photographer.

As they watch a game at Fenway Park, Nina and Ian decide they'll put off divorcing for a little while.

See The Huntress on Amazon.

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