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Ashes in the Snow    by Oriana Ramunno order for
Ashes in the Snow
by Oriana Ramunno
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2023 (2022)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Here's a very unusual historical mystery - Oriana Ramunno's Ashes in the Snow (translated by Katherine Gregor) tells of a murder investigation that takes place in Auschwitz, Christmas 1943. The body of an SS officer is found in Block 10 by a young Jewish prisoner, eight-year-old Gioele Errera, with a talent for drawing.

Bright and inquisitive Gioele is a favorite of Mengele's who shows off his drawings. His twin brother Gabriele is treated differently. Detective Hugo Fischer, a reputed criminologist, is sent from Berlin to investigate. He thought he'd seen it all in his work, but isn't ready for what he encounters at Auschwitz, which feels like 'one of the circles of Dante's Inferno.'

Hugo's fond memories of a Jewish neighbor in Berlin, who was like an aunt, increase his horror at all he sees, but he's trapped in this investigation. He must also hide his multiple sclerosis, a disease that could lead to his execution in Nazi Germany. Hugo quickly discovers, from young Gioele's drawing of the dead man, that it was murder.

Gradually, he makes sense of what happened, but knows he's somewhere 'your life and career can end from one moment to the next.' He discovers a Resistance group in Auschwitz that tries to limit the suffering. With their help, he does save one from death, at great risk. Ashes in the Snow is not an easy read, but it is a necessary one.

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