The Sterling Affair by Nathan Dylan Goodwin: Book Review

Disclaimer: Although I have received review copies of some of the author’s earlier novels, I purchased this book through everyone’s favorite online website. This review reflects  my own opinion and I have received no benefits of any kind in exchange.

Would a well crafted novel filled with historical details, government intrigue and and a complex genealogical mystery draw you into a book?

If so, Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s latest genealogical crime mystery, The Sterling Affair, hot off the presses (as of 17 January 2020), is the book for you.

Maybe I should start by saying I’ve been waiting since last spring for a new Morton Farrier story. Yes, I am a huge fan of Goodwin’s mysteries.

Or by saying that the amount of preparatory research for this book must have taken months. As a genealogist myself, I am amazed at the huge attention to real-life historical details needed to blend fact with fiction to create a story that flows smoothly.

I might also say I devoured the book in two days’ sitting! It arrived on Monday and I immediately dropped what I was doing to sit down and read. I finished the book yesterday afternoon in spite of it being the lengthiest novel in the Morton Farrier series, by far – about 375 pages.

The cover teaser explains that Morton Farrier is facing “the most intriguing and confounding case of his career as a forensic genealogist.”

The Sterling Affair is, indeed, a very complex genealogical story, based on a series of related events that took place during the Second World War and into the 1950s that have continued to impact people’s lives.

Elderly Clarissa Duggan, who lost her brother when they were both youngsters and has just learned that a recently deceased man had stolen her dead brother’s identity, is Morton Farrier’s newest client.

Her appearance comes at a time when Morton has little spare time, as his young family and his own family history research are filling his days. However, the bare bones of Clarissa’s story intrigues Morton enough that he agrees to take on her case.

Her obvious question is who was this man and why did he take on her brother’s identity? That is about the only thing obvious about this mystery.

Nathan has the terrific ability to intertwine stories, which lead readers down one path (and mislead readers into thinking that they have the solution all figured out), only to throw out more clues that confuse and eventually sets the reader off in a totally opposite direction.

The story begins with the somewhat disconcerting death of one Maurice Duggan, the impostor who assumed the identity of Clarissa’s brother.

From there, the author smoothly moves back and forth in time, setting the scenes that introduce a handful of main characters who not only develop the plot, but who also tell their side of the story.

Our forensic genealogist, Morton Farrier, does a superb job of investigating each avenue that opens in this case, in spite of starting out with nothing but Clarissa’s memories of her brother and records that document the death of the impostor.

This mystery is a giant puzzle with some pieces dropping right into place, but with some others that don’t quite seem to fit correctly together, at least not until the very end.

The Sterling Affair has so many twists and turns in it that it is difficult to share many details without giving anything away.

I will say that each flashback builds adds elements to the plot and, at the same time, drops very subtle clues for the reader in this enticing story.

As is typical with the Morton Farrier series, there is a secondary story relating to Morton’s personal life and his quest to add information to his own family tree.

Also typical in this series, there is a final surprise that makes its appearance near the end of the story.

While most of Morton Farrier’s escapades have all loose ends neatly tied up at the conclusion, this book is a bit different. While Clarissa Duggan has her questions answered, I still have a question about one cause of death. Also, Morton finds more than one new fairly close relative and his DNA matches are only partially resolved. I suspect that his DNA story will be picked up in the next book.

I love, love, love Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s books. He is a master storyteller and, coupled with actual historical facts that serve more or less as a setting for his books, these mysteries draw me into the story every time, wanting to know what will happen next.

I highly recommend The Sterling Affair to anyone who enjoys mysteries. You will quickly become absorbed in the story and, like me, try to second guess how this will turn out. If you are also a genealogist, you will further appreciate Morton’s trips to archives and repositories as he collects documents to support his case. Morton even mentions the Genealogical Proof Standard along with DNA tools and databases, which he uses in his research. I chuckled when Morton clicked the GEDmatch box to allow police to access his DNA results. You can’t get much more current with the times than that!

Be sure to visit author Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s website to learn more about his other books. If The Sterling Affair is the first of his books that you read, I guarantee you will want to read the previous books in this series.





3 thoughts on “The Sterling Affair by Nathan Dylan Goodwin: Book Review”

  1. Hello Linda! I happened upon your name in doing research on my husband’s ancestry. I couldn’t find an email listed anywhere to contact you so am using this medium as a way of reaching out. Rev. Frances Dane is a 10X grandfather of my husband, Carl Draper. Carl is the son of Richard L. Draper who is the son of Ann F. Cobler. Anna is the daughter of Holmer B. Cobler and Sarah Margaret Black. Sarah is the daughter of Benjamin Perry Black and Amanda Quarles. Benjamin’s great great granmother was Abigail Johnson Black who is the grand daughter of Rev. Frances Dane.

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