A.F.Th. van der Heijden
The Morning Gift
An exciting historical spy novel and dramatic love story rolled into one
What happens to someone caught in the diplomatic push-and-pull of great powers jostling for territory and riches? That is the tense world in which Caspar Sonmans, the hero of A.F.Th. van der Heijden’s very first historical novel, finds himself fatally embroiled.
In 1705, as the conflict between two warring factions draws to a close, the narrator witnesses the beheading of a former mayor of his city, and recalls the most harrowing day of his life, in August of 1678, which “was the end of his life, though not his existence”. On that day the love of his life, Sara Stermont, was shot dead just as the two of them were finally reunited. Some years earlier, on the morning after his wedding night, she had vanished into thin air as French troops marched in to occupy the town. She had therefore never received the “morning gift” the bridegroom traditionally presents to the bride… or had she?
As town clerk of the city of Nijmegen, Caspar is involved in the peace negotia- tions with France and England. He is indispensible to the young Dutch Republic because he is the only one able to read and translate the messages from a spy whose handwriting he suspects to be his wife’s. The game must be played with great finesse, and Caspar has to put up with a number of unnerving frustrations, since he not only has Sara’s disappearance to deal with, but also the care of a foundling left at his door with a note pinned to its swaddling cloths. He raises the boy, named Putto, as his son, although he suspects his French adversary, the Marquis Caloyanni, is the child’s real father.
When the Peace of Nijmegen is signed, he is finally reunited with his love—only to lose her again almost immediately.
Besides this moving love story, The Morning Gift gives a splendid account of the cultural divide between the negotiating parties—the French and English ambassa- dors’ stalling tactics on the one hand, and the impatience of the new Dutch Repub- lic’s leaders on the other. In the persuasive skill with which his world is brought to life, and the stylistic and artistic force spilling from every page, we recognize the author of the great sagas that made Van der Heijden famous.