We have Bonnie Toews, author of The Consummate Traitor, but let me give you a warning before you pick it up: You’d better have some snacks and a vacation prepared, because once you pick it up, you won’t be able to put it down. As the story of a pair of women spies—American journalist Lee Talbot and English pianist Lady Grace—in the midst of World War II, this highly dramatic tale is riddled with secrets, explosions, forbidden loves—and enough suspense to kill.
My Trilogy of spy thrillers is based on the theme of treason. Each story could be a stand-alone, but certain characters in the first novel re-appear in the other two: The Consummate Traitor, Covert Denial and The Odonata Ring. In The Consummate Traitor, two women spies face betrayal and sacrifice as they struggle to prevent a nuclear holocaust in a tale rich in historical detail. What happens to these heroines exposes a secret England wants buried forever. It is based on a true story. In fact all three novels spin within real life events.
How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?
The idea for the introductory story began when I was 10 years old and percolated for a long time before I attempted to do the research to develop the actual story. In the beginning I had no idea who the traitor was. I formed no plot line. I just wrote and let the characters evolve, and yet I wrote the final two pages almost immediately. Subconsciously I was working to that end. I also believe that if I had known who the traitor was I would never had sustained the interest to keep writing to find out who it was. In the next novel I am now writing, I have a dead body and haven’t a clue who killed him or why. And for this one I have also written the final two pages so spontaneously know where I am going. I accept this is the way my muse works. I have created synopsis as a kind of map but no specific outline. I think it’s because I fear formula writing. Instead I live in the moment. I want each story to evolve on its own terms. I think my voice is also changing through each novel, based on what is happening to the characters and how they are growing.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
From seven-years-old, I was trained to grow up to be an opera or concert singer. (Never happened — I lost my voice just after I turned 21-years-old and can only sing a range of eight notes today. God help Jackie Evanko!) Even so, of my many music teachers, I had two amazing vocal coaches who realized my voice was in jeopardy and was trying to save it, but I was more interested in listening to their memories of the secret lives they led in WWII. Nazi jackboots goosestepping across Europe interrupted their concert careers, but rather than wallow in fear and despair, they slipped into the shadows and risked death to fight Hitler’s tryanny. My present novel does not fictionalize their personal stories but my characters imbue their quiet bravery, steadfast faith and fierce tenacity.
How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?
There are elements of myself in both heroines, but yet they are stronger than I think I could ever be. The journalist, Lee, lives with my recurring nightmare and my affinity with the Holocaust. I have often said, “I am a Gentile with a Jewish soul.” The pianist, Grace, reflects my more naive, pollyanna side. And yet, the one time I headed into the Rwandan conflict that proved the UN’s promise of “never again” would the world tolerate another genocide to be an outright lie, I went with complete faith, like Grace, that I was protected from harm.
Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite?
I don’t seem to have favorite characters. At least I am not aware of liking one more than another. And as repulsive as my villains could be (there are more than one), I was also aware of their fraility as human beings, so I did not hate them, even if they disappointed me at times. This may be a reflection of how I see most people and animals. I try to treat everyone with respect and understanding, though when I am confronted with pure evil, I have no tolerance or patience. We may all be born with sin, but I’m sorry to conclude there are some bad seeds who are not redeemable. I don’t like writing about them. For those characters who are not as developed in the first novel, they will be in the following novels. It’s what happens to them that creates the needed material to develop the new stories.
Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it?
I do intense research so that my facts are as realistic as can be in a fictional setting. I scour libraries, Google, read travelogues of areas I have not visited so that my descriptions are as true to life as possible, either today or in the time of the book’s setting. For that I interview people who lived and endured during the period. One interview for The Consummate Traitor was with an actual German aerocraft designer Canada protected so he could work on our Avro jet. He began as a fanatical NAZI with access to Hitler’s inner circle (He hated Goring) but by the end of the war, was so disillusioned that he ended up with a disassociated personality. During our interview he split from one to the other depending on what I described that triggered him to relive the past. I gained amazing insight from that interview and gave his hands to my NAZI villain. I have never seen hands like his — his finger tips were square, not rounded, and his shoulders were so slumped that his arms seem to hang too long for his body. I could picture him in an SS uniform with the shoulder paddings squaring off his body. He died a few years ago. He had Parkinson’s.
Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?
Yes, I do demonstrate a message in all three of the novels in this trilogy. What I have observed at the crossroads of humanity is that victims of atrocities can never forget what they have endured, and their resulting bitterness perpetuates revenge. This convinces me that as long as victim and perpetuator seek retribution against the other, true peace can never be achieved. But, there is an answer: the ACT OF FORGIVENESS. We understand the idea of God’s forgiveness, but the act of forgiveness becomes meaningless if we cannot first forgive ourselves and then one another. To make a difference in world peace, victims and their perpetrators must forgive themselves before they can forgive one another and live in harmony.
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