Diana Mathur Releases Witch Hammer

Cover of Diana Mathur’s second book in The Linden Tree & the Legionnaire series. Cover inspired by the paintings of Kārlis Smiltens

Anyone who has had the fortunate experience of reading, Diana Mathur’s exciting and adventurous book, Article 58, the first in a historical fiction series, The Linden Tree & the Legionnairedidn’t have to wait too long for the second in the series, Witch Hammer that deepens the important and compelling story Mathur weaves in her griping, suspenseful style.

Placed in Latvia in the dangerous, darkening years of the 1940s, we find the noose of the tyrannical Russian occupation pulling ever tighter around the brave characters introduced in the first book.  

Seven teenage boys, who cleverly call themselves, The Nonchalants, have banded together to undermine, in their own way, the hateful Communist control of their city and country and somehow remain alive. They have developed a dangerous and desperate plan to throw their homemade explosives at the dreaded Corner House, an infamous place known as a prison of interrogation and torture.

Mathur makes good use of her special gift as a master storyteller, involving the reader so vividly in her books that one continually has to ask oneself, as if a living part of the narrative, “What would I do in this situation?  Would I have the courage to stand up for my beliefs? Would I name names? Would I stand by while a friend is arrested? Would I fight or flee or freeze?”

The Nonchalants are tested at every turn finding their families, homes and culture, torn apart. One of them has even been taken prisoner in the Corner House and our young artist hero, Karlis, has just been drafted into the Russian Army.

The rest of the group are scattered but still fighting for their beliefs and lives. Eriks joins a gorilla group, known as, The Forest Men, in an impossible plan to enter the infested hornet’s nest of a heavily occupied village in order to steal a trove of weapons belonging to the enemy. The harrowing undertaking, which is Eriks’ idea, is perilous and the outcome uncertain but the leader of the Forest Men, Captain Wagtail, proclaims, “Your plan is not impossible. Utterly reckless, but it’s the best we got at the moment. If you still want to do it, we’re leaving tonight.”      

One of the major, entwining themes in, “Witch Hammer” is the honoring of ancient Latvian folklore and the local customs, which were outlawed under the Russian Criminal Code.  To celebrate Christmas was an offense, as was the Winter Solstice.

The author, an aficionado of folklore, who will be attending the North American Latvian SongFest in Baltimore in June, explains, “In addition to examining how World War II tragically impacted Latvia, I tried to show the influence of centuries old traditions.

That happened through the development of the elderly character, Tante Agata. She’s expert with herbal medicine, honors animals through mumming, reveres the trees and speaks in puzzling, poetic proverbs. The Baltic tribes were among the last Pagans in Europe. Even after being officially Christianized, within their homes and deep in the forests, the old worship continued. Folk songs and dance are sacred to this culture and the banning was nothing short of cultural genocide.”

Former Topanga local and community volunteer, Kim Driscoll, who’s family were from the Latvia area, recalled, “Grandma was hidden in a wagon under some hay as my family made their way to Belgium.  I am so grateful that Diana’s books bring to life the incredible challenges of those living there during this time.”

Mathur’s personal inspiration for this project comes from her relationship with the revered Karlis, himself—her husband, Chris Mathur’s uncle—whom she met and whose story she has dramatically told.  

It is Karlis Smiltens’ astounding art, both dark and lovely, that graces the pages of her books and lends a palpable credibility, capturing from the very trenches, the life and struggle he led.

Although Karlis died in February, Mathur is grateful to have self-published the first two books in the ambitious 12-volume series while he was able to have seen them.  

The book is not a light tome, nor should it be. First generation Latvian, Rita Sharpe, whom the author met on an airplane said, “Once I started to read ‘Witch Hammer,’ I could not put it down. The books have helped open discussions with my parents about their war experiences which they had been previously reluctant to share.”

The title, “Witch Hammer,” refers to a hideous hunting manual from 1486 used by Inquisitors to track down and destroy those suspected of practicing witchcraft.  It was especially effective in dispatching poets, women, midwives and widowed landowners. Such repression, contrary to the human spirit, still marches in our world today and it is important that through the telling of the truth, as Diana Mathur has done, the light that shines on tyranny, oppression and brute ugliness kills the darkness.

“The Linden Tree & The Legionnaire” series can be ordered at www.TheLindenTree.info. The third book, “A Knock at Knight,” is coming.


Kathie Gibboney

It has been said that Kathie Gibboney invented the Unicorn, which she neither admits nor denies, as it might reveal her true age. Kathie is an essayist, reporter, and poet for MMN with her column, "My Corner of The Canyon." She lives happily in a now-empty nest in Topanga, CA with The Beleaguered Husband and a marmalade cat.

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