Robert Barnard, the British author, writes small books. Small in physical size and generally, small in scope and plot. Barnard's books are generally filed as "mysteries" but they are mysteries in the true sense of the word. Not a lot of death and physical mayhem; Barnard's books are psychological mysteries. Cerebral, of the mind, in the family, in small spaces...
"A Stranger in the Family", Barnard's latest, has no murders, other than those murdered by the Nazis and their allies. The plot, which ranges in time from the 1930's to modern days, ties the Kindertransport of 1939 to a more modern child abduction. Two boys, both three years old, are taken from their families. One, Jurgen Greenspan, is sent out of Germany on the last Kindertransport with his slightly older sister, Hilde and raised in England by adopted parents. The other, Peter Novello, is snatched from his parents while vacationing in Sicily and is adopted by the now-grown Jurgen and his wife in Glasgow. Only on his adopted mother's deathbed, does she tell Peter, referred to as Kit by his adoptive parents, the name of his birth mother. After her death, Kit tracks down his birth family in Leeds and is accepted by his mother, estranged father, and siblings with varying degrees of warmth.
Kit sets out to discover how he was taken from Sicily and ended up in Glasgow. His journey of discovery takes him to London, Vienna, and Sicily, touching on people's memories of the times and events. Few people in the book are all good or all bad (except Peter's birth father, who's an unreconstructed "baddie"); Barnard draws all his characters with a nuanced touch sadly missing in many works of fiction.
There's very little physical action in the book; the action is nearly all of the mind. Barnard's books are pure gems and thankfully he's a fairly prolific writer.