Widely acclaimed for his groundbreaking crime novels "Booked to Die" and "The Bookman's Wake," award-winning author John Dunning triumphantly returns with a riveting new thriller that takes us back to the summer of 1942, when radio was in its prime, when daylight saving time gave way to "wartime," when stations like WHAR on the New Jersey coast struggled to create programming that entertained and inspired a nation in its dark hour. Into this intense community of radio artists and technicians in Regina Beach, New Jersey, come Jack Dulaney and Holly Carnahan. They are determined to find Holly's missing father, whose last desperate word came from this noisy seaside town. Holly sings like an angel and has what it takes to become a star. Jack -- a racetrack hot-walker and novelist who's hit every kind of trouble in his travels from sea to sea -- tries out as a writer at WHAR and soon discovers a passion for radio and a natural talent for script writing. While absorbing the ways of radio, from writing to directing, he meets some extraordinarily brave and gifted people who touch his life in ways he could not have imagined -- actresses Rue, Pauline, and Hazel; actor-director Waldo, creator of the magnificent black show "Freedom Road; " and enigmatic station owner Loren Harford, among others. Jack's zeal for radio is exceeded only by his devotion to Holly, who needs his help but who is terrified for his safety. Strange things are happening in Regina Beach, starting with an English actor who walked out of the station six years ago and was never seen again. And Holly's father is gone too, in equally puzzling circumstances. As Jack and Holly penetrate deeper into the shadows of thepast, they learn that someone will do anything, including murder, to hide some devastating truths. In a stunning novel that transcends genre, John Dunning calls upon his vast knowledge of radio and his incisive reading of history to create a poignant, page-turning work of fiction that sheds new insights on some of the most harrowing events of the twentieth century. Like E. L. Doctorow's "Billy Bathgate" or Caleb Carr's "The Alienist," Dunning's brilliant tale of mystery, murder, and revenge brings to life another time, another place, another world.
John Dunning's previous novels featuring a sleuth who's an expert in rare and collectible books won this former bookstore owner a devoted following; first editions of Booked to Die and The Bookman's Wake routinely fetch high sums in stores like the one Dunning himself owned for many years. With the verisimilitude that's a hallmark of his writing, Dunning delves into a new topic, the golden days of radio, igniting the reader's excitement about the enormous potential of the medium. Sadly, he can't assuage the inevitable disappointment over how that potential was wasted:
"Radio is the greatest invention of the past four centuries. It ranks right up there with Gutenberg's movable type as an earthshaking force.... One of the first things Gutenberg did with his movable type was print a magnificent Bible. The first thing radio did was argue how much selling would be permitted and how ridiculous it would be allowed to get. If it keeps on the way it's going there won't be anything worth listening to.... I have this almost morbid fear of the future--not that radio's greatest days will fade away but that its greatest day will never come. Fifty years from now it could just be a medium of hucksters and fools, a whorehouse in the sky." The speaker is Jack Dulaney, a novelist who follows a dead man's trail to the Jersey shore in the early days of World War II, where a radio station owned by a recluse has fallen on hard times. The mysterious Harford, who built the station as a showcase for his late wife's ambition, has all but abandoned WHAR, but the actors, writers, producers, and technicians who once shared the dead woman's dream are galvanized by the appearance of Dulaney, who finds his true métier in the creation of original, politically provocative broadcast dramas. He also discovers true love in a talented young singer, Holly Carnahan, whose affections he once sacrificed out of loyalty to his best friend.
Carnahan's search for her missing father involves Dulaney in a mystery rooted in the long-ago Boer War that has grown into a conspiracy peopled by German saboteurs, Irish nationalists, and African freedom fighters. The plotting is dense and the cast of minor characters merely sketched, but Dulaney's creative process is artfully drawn and the ambience of America in wartime is skillfully portrayed. --Jane Adams