In August 2014, Joanna Millard flees Brussels, leaving behind a stagnant journalist career and a failing relationship, and finds herself on the sun-drenched coast of Faro, Portugal. She enrolls in a Portuguese language class, where she meets Nathan Emberlin, a young, brash man with a secret. When Nathan enlists Jo’s journalistic and investigative skills in helping him track down information on the kidnappings of children—and his own adoption—along the Portuguese coast she quickly learns that idyllic Faro has a dark, sinister past.
During their investigation they meet Ian Rylands, an expat who suggests to Joanna that she reads a book called The Alliance. Set in Portugal during World War II, The Alliance details an American couple’s struggles in Portugal as they weave through Machiavellian webs of deceit, mistrust and political intrigue between the Nazis and the Allies. Eventually, Joanna learns that the book is not fiction and that it holds the clue to solving Nathan’s kidnapping quest.
300 Days of Sun is a book within a book. For Joanna’s sections, Lawrenson does an amazing job setting the scenes of Portugal. The vibrancy of sound, smells, and color springs from the pages. The sections with The Alliance will appeal to fans of history by delving into the uncertain nature of neutral Portugal awash with Nazi and British and American spies. But these two pieces, though woven together to bring resolution to the plot, may get in the way of each other for many readers. I struggled to like Joanna. Her character felt a bit flat, and Nathan was too much a caricature at times. The ending is somewhat predictable, and Joanna’s final decisions may leave the reader with a feeling of “oh.” A good rainy day read when you want to feel the warmth of Portugal across your face.
Originally appeared: Historical Novels Review, Nov. 2016