Isn't it great when you find a series that you just have to read all of. So it is with the 'Lunch With...' series, by Derek Hansen. Unlike many other series', you don't actually have to read this series in order, which is just as well, because I started with  the last one - 'Lunch with a Soldier', then moved onto number three - 'Lunch with the Stationmaster', and now number two. Next is number one - 'Lunch with Mussolini'. Each of these novels is completely self contained, the link and familiarity between them due to the same four men meeting weekly in an Italian restaurant in Sydney to tell their stories and pass time together. And eat beautiful Italian food! How incredibly civilised! And what stories these ageing gentlemen tell! Each book is great story telling, the author has a wonderful gift in the art of telling a story. The tension and hook of each story is trying to figure out whether it is the narrator's life story or if it is really a made up story, or even a mixture of the two.

This fluidity with the truth is maddening in this particular tale! The story of the General is narrated by Ramon, an exile from Argentina. You never know at all how much is Ramon's story and how much isn't, even at the end there are doubts. But don't let this slight annoyance detract you from the brilliance of the story telling.

Ramon's story begins during a terrible period in Argentina's recent history. A small boy witnesses his parents being taken away, betrayed by an ex-lover of the mother. The parents are never seen again, The ex-lover 'escapes' to Australia, renames himself Eduardo, and begins a new life. Running parallel to this story is that of a young Dutch man who makes the long journey to his childhood home in Indonesia, taken over by the Japanese during the war. Eventually he and his family also land in Sydney, where inevitably the paths of the two men and their families cross. As does the third path of the young child abandoned during his parents' arrests. It is perhaps a little contrived with a not entirely satisfactory ending, but still compelling story telling. Not the best in the series, but still worth a read. 


Lots to like in this novel, perfect for summer or holiday reading. The setting is very Downton Abbey with the grand English home between the wars, the family upstairs and the servants downstairs, their lives intimately connected with each other, changes taking place in society during this time, the tragedy of the war on the living as well as those killed.  Such great material to pull together in a novel.

Grace is the narrator of the story. Now 99 years old and living in a rest home, she has been visited by a young American film maker, Ursula, who is making a movie about an incident that took place at Riverton during the 1920s. At a ball, a young poet, Robbie, killed himself. He was at the centre of a love triangle involving the two sisters of the manor house, Hannah and Emmeline. Grace, at the time, was a lady's maid to Hannah, and as the only person still living from this tragic episode, is the only one Ursula can call upon for a first hand account.

Grace likes Ursula, and so decides to tell the story. At the same time she makes a tape recording to leave to her grandson Marcus, only child of her only child Ruth, with whom she has a prickly relationship. The telling of the tragic story, so long buried in Grace's memory  and her forced remembrance of the part she herself played in the tragedy, is not easy for Grace but slowly, moving between the past and the present, Grace manages to come to a certain peace about the events that took place some 80 years earlier.

This narrative is only part of what is going on in this novel. Grace herself comes from unexplained beginnings which gradually emerge through the telling. Although I guessed fairly early on what had happened. It will also give too much of the plot away by elaborating further on the story line. What is less easily explained, and has also been picked up by numerous other reviewers, is how did Grace, in the course of her very long life, go from being a lady's maid to a famous archaeologist! We know women can do anything, but this does seem rather a long stretch of the imagination for the times. But never mind. Sometimes you have to suspend belief when the rest of the story catches your imagination. And it is a good story, twists and turns, dominated by the mistress/servant relationship between Hannah and Grace which ultimately leads to the tragic events.

It does, however, take a lot of pages before we finally get to learn what really happened the night of Robbie's death. Too many pages really, it sort of does drag along a bit. But plenty of intrigue, a vivid portrayal of life between the wars, for those upstairs and downstairs, romance, betrayal, passion. It is still most enjoyable!