1905. Asta and her husband Rasmus have come to east London from Denmark with their two sons. With Rasmus constantly away on business, Asta keeps loneliness and isolation at bay by writing her diary. These diaries, published over seventy years later, reveal themselves to be more than a mere journal, for they seem to hold the key to an unsolved murder, to the quest for a missing child and to the enigma surrounding Asta's daughter, Swanny. It falls to Asta's granddaughter Ann to unearth the buried secrets of nearly a century before.
- From the 1994 Penguin paperback edition
- Shortlisted for the Sunday Express Book of the Year Award, 1993
- Penguin Audiobook, 01/11/1993. Read by Jane Lapotaire.
- In 1998, reports surfaced that a BBC television adaptation was planned, but this is yet to appear.
- The mixture of Asta's diary, Ann's narrative and other historical documents echoes earlier successful experiments by Vine in this area, notably in A Dark-Adapted Eye and King Solomon's Carpet.
- In the US, the novel was retitled Anna's Book, and every reference to the name within the text was also changed. This seems odd, especially as it bring's Asta's name confusingly close to that of Ann, the other primary narrator. The change was imposed by Vine's US publishers. Many thanks to Vine fan Philip Swan, who supplied us with the following extract from a letter which Vine sent to him in response to his query about the change:
"There is quite a funny story about the title change for Asta's Book. My American publishers pointed out to me that Asta is the name of the dog in the Thin Man series. I said, so what? No one has heard of the Thin Man any longer but they said that the films based on this character had become cult movies in the U.S. and millions watched. That alone wouldn't have been enough to make me change the name but it happened to be at the time Barbara Bush had published that Dog's Diary, supposedly written by the White House dog Millie. I thought the two together might give people that impression that was what they were going to read, a dog's diary. Anna does conjure up a different mental image from Asta and I didn't like it at the time but it seemed preferable to the alternative."
- Vine's thanks to her research and translation helpers (the first time these have been referred to; see Acknowledgements) is interesting, given that Ann Eastbrook is an author's researcher and translator Margrethe Cooper also plays a key role in the story.
March 25, 1993
In memory of my grandparents, Anna Larsson and Mads Kruse
I am indebted to Elizabeth Murray for her imaginative research, much of it beyond the call of duty, and to Bente Connellan for all her translations into Danish and her help and advice on Danish matters.
My thanks are due also to Karl and Lilian Fredriksson for their assistance with sagas and guillotines. For the character of Mr de Filippis I am indebted to John Mortimer's Introduction to Edward Marjoribanks' Famous Trials of Marshall Hall.
In the pursuit of accuracy, Judith Flanders' help has been invaluable.
"This is an engrossing double-detective story, a mixture of biography, true crime and romance peopled with vivid minor players and red with herrings."
- Shena Mackay, Independent on Sunday
On first reading, it's almost impossible not to get carried away by the engrossing narrative flow. It is only on subsequent readings that you can appreciate the richness of detail and the seamless way in which events over nearly a hundred-year period are woven together, as well as the numerous distinct voices adopted by the text. For a Vine novel, the ending is positively upbeat, with a mystery solved and a happy ending for the narrator. Gripping stuff.