Elena is Harriet’s elderly neighbor, a mysterious lady with a Russian accent who visits her jewelry stall in London’s Raglan Market and spins tall tales of her past. She hides the fact that, apart from Harriet, no one knows how poor she is, and no one else helps her with her many needs. When she accompanies her to a doctor’s appointment, Harriet is shocked to learn that Elena has listed her as next of kin, and when she dies shortly afterward, Harriet is her sole inheritor. And just as Harriet is reconciling herself to this news, a rich German businessman swoops in, claiming to be Elena’s cousin’s grandson, accuses Harriet of elder abuse, and sues to collect the estate.
And thus begins the journey that takes Harriet to Berlin in search of the woman who sent Elena a mysterious card about 18 months before her death, along with two black & white pictures hinting at the truth of Elena’s past. She encounters discouragement and danger at nearly every turn, but aided by a few good people, she draws closer to fulfilling Elena’s wishes, even though doing so always seems out of reach and increasingly dangerous. However, Harriet, as Elena knew, isn’t the type to give up.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel which, while rooted in World War II and the horrors of the Nazi regime, firmly maintained its presence in modern London and Berlin. Harriet’s long journey seemed to drag on endlessly in the middle of the book, but once a crucial point was reached, the story picked up speed that was nearly breakneck at the story’s conclusion. A Single Journey is a moving testament to the power of honor and memory, and Frankie McGowan is the perfect storyteller for that tale.