By PENNY A PARRISH FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
It’s the day after Pearl Harbor, and thousands of Americans are gathered around their radios listening to Franklin Roosevelt talking about a day that would live in infamy.
“It was the largest radio audience in history. On the cold coast of Maine they were listening. Down on Wall Street, traders stopped so they could listen. On assembly lines in Detroit, they were taking long lunches so the autoworkers could listen.” So begins this WWII thriller about a Nazi assassin who plans to shoot and kill FDR when he lights up the National Christmas Tree.
The book begins in Los Angeles, where a lowly script reader has found an interesting screenplay called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s.” Kevin Cusack wants to be a writer, but instead he reads through books and manuscripts for Hollywood bigshots. We also meet Vivian Hopewell, a wanna-be actress who looks like Marlene Dietrich, and hopes that with the war, she might get some good roles as a German villainess. Tracking a Nazi movement in LA is FBI Agent Carter, who raids German Bund enclaves, looking for Americans who sympathize with Hitler. And then there is Martin Browning, who plans to kill FDR—and anyone who gets in his way.
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The author takes us on a twisting, riveting journey from Los Angeles to DC Part of that trip is on the Super Chief train to Chicago where some of the main characters meet. The sense of a ride on this elegant train is palpable in Martin’s writing. From the Pullman porters to the dining car, the images take the reader back to a time when travel was a luxury rather than a routine.
Bodies are left in myriad places due to Browning, who changes identities more often than he changes clothes. With Vivian as his “wife,” they appear a normal couple. Vivian knows Browning is using her, but she has no idea what his goal is. Eventually, all of the major characters end up in DC on Christmas Eve, and Browning puts his plan into action.
I had a very hard time getting into this book and almost gave up after the first chapter, where you are introduced to dozens of characters. The number of names was overwhelming, and I didn’t think I could keep them straight. But I persevered and am glad I did. It really is a page-turner, written in a 1940s style. And “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” did turn out to be “Casablanca.”
Penny A Parrish is a freelance writer in Stafford County.