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It's 1943 and the eve of the Trident Conference, a highly classified council attended by FDR, Winston Churchill, and Dwight Eisenhower with the purpose of planning an invasion of Western Europe. The White House is aflutter with preparations...
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It's 1943 and the eve of the Trident Conference, a highly classified council attended by FDR, Winston Churchill, and Dwight Eisenhower with the purpose of planning an invasion of Western Europe. The White House is aflutter with preparations and swarming with extra Secret Service agents and soldiers. So when a body is discovered in the Lincoln Bedroom while the conferees are still in session, Eleanor Roosevelt knows that in order to keep the murder (as well as the conference) a secret from the prying eyes of the press, not to mention foreign agents, she must solve it herself. And when she learns that the victim was part of a plot to assassinate the President, she embarks on a daring plan to trap the assassin, using FDR as bait. Now, Eleanor's skills will be put to the ultimate test as she races to solve the mystery before the assassin strikes again...
Author Biography: Elliott Roosevelt, son of Franklin and Eleanor, was a former writer and rancher. He died in 1990.
"[Eleanor is] a unique and incomparable heroine."—Booklist
"[A]ll the tensions, intrigues, and glamour of WWII-era Washington...As always, the interplay between real and fictional characters is beautifully done."—Romantic Times
MRS. ROOSEVELT STOOD AT a window in her study and watched cars arrive. She had been downstairs at 2:00 A.M. to welcome Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his daughter Sarah to the White House. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Alan Brooke, had flown on a separate plane and arrived half an hour later. When these guests had been installed in their rooms, the First Lady had gone to bed.
Now she watched General George Marshall arrive, then Admiral Ernest King. They came to the White House often, and she knew both of them well. The man she was really curious about was the last to arrive: General Dwight David Eisenhower. It was generally assumed that General Marshall would command the forces that would invade France and that General Eisenhower would replace General Marshall as Chief of Staff. That was why he was here: to take part in the discussions leading to major decisions and so be better ready to take Marshall's job when the new appointments were made. Mrs. Roosevelt had met Eisenhower when he was a major, serving as aide de camp to General MacArthur, and she wondered how the years and his rapid promotion had changed him.
He was accompanied by his English driver and bridge partner, Kay Summersby. They had flown all the way from Algiers.
That General Eisenhower had Miss Summersby with him was suggestive. Almost no one in Washington had the least idea who the handsome young woman might be, but the President and Mrs. Roosevelt had heard the rumor, which was current in London, that Miss Summersby was the general's bed partner and that he had indicated to General Marshall that he intended to seek a divorce from his wife so he could marry Miss Summersby.
Mrs. Roosevelt detested gossip, and she discounted this heavily; but she could not help but be curious about the charming young Englishwoman, a former actress, who accompanied General Eisenhower wherever he went.
The plan had been that the Prime Minister would occupy the Queen's Bedroom suite, in which he had been comfortable before, and that General Eisenhower would occupy the Lincoln Bedroom suite. Word had come from the general, however, that he wanted a two-bedroom suite on the third floor, where his presence—and Miss Summersby's presence, too, as Mrs. Roosevelt surmised—would far less likely be noticed. The Trident Conference was so secret that almost no one knew that the Prime Minister and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff were in the United States. Even Mrs. Eisenhower did not know that General Eisenhower was in Washington.
White House security had abruptly become tighter. Mrs. Roosevelt, who'd had to learn to live with wartime protection, felt constricted by the extremely heavy shield that had dropped around the executive mansion this week. She understood why. She could not and did not complain. But the pervasive and ominous presence of soldiers and extra Secret Service agents in and around the house lay like a half-smothering blanket.
Security had been tight since 1941. But this—Since the participants would fly back across the Atlantic, the very fact they were not in London had to be kept secret, lest the Nazis increase theft air patrols and lie in wait for the returning conferees. The conference would not last long. Before the end of the month things would again be as close to normal as anything could be during a war. And Mrs. Roosevelt would be a little more comfortable with that.
That May the cherry trees blossomed in Washington, as they did every year. Because they were Japanese cherry trees—in fact, the original ones had been a gift from the emperor of Japan—a few zealots thought it would be a patriotic act to cut them down. Despite this feverish nationalism, the profusion of pink cherry blossoms lent Washington an appearance of continuity it did not have in many other places. World War II was in its second year for America, and the capitol city was a very different place from what it had been before December, 1941.
Beginning in March, 1933, a little more than ten years ago, the invasion of New Dealers had begun. The old Washingtonians, the ones who had been there a century or more, were called the Cave Dwellers, even by so discreet a publication as the Saturday Evening Post. They had been shocked by the professors and social workers of the New Deal, who did not know how to dress for dinner. They had been dismayed by the degradation of mores, disgusted by the apparel, manners, and conversation of the "new people." Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been married in the White House, was a caustic commentator on this subject.
But if that had shocked and dismayed them, they had been totally unprepared for what war brought.
The Cave Dwellers had never thought to see the day when the streets of their city would throng with young women wearing trousers! Trousers, yes—called slacks—with no hats, their hair confined only in snoods, if at all. When they did wear skirts, their legs were bare! And it wasn't only that. As part of a campaign to save fabrics, their skirts were short, in some instances hardly covering their knees. They wore bright-red lipstick and rouged their cheeks. They smoked cigarettes, even on the streets, and tossed the butts in the gutters. Whiskey was in short supply, but these young women in trousers drank it when they could get it.
Government Girls, they were called.
No wonder young men liked them. It was reported that they had loose morals. They looked as if they did.
And the young men! Virtually every one wore a uniform of some sort. A few were officers, but most of them were just young men of one sort or another, many of the kind once to be found in the Civilian Conservation Corps camps—boys of no family background particularly, no university background particularly, no prospects particularly, no distinction particularly. Faceless and just passing through. Temporary.
Everything was temporary. People. Work. Agencies. Buildings. Washington had become a temporary city. How could newcomers learn manners and standards and fit themselves into the elegant lifestyle the city had once had when they had come unexpectedly, many unwillingly, and were expected to stay only a short time?
New Dealers had marred the beauty of the Tidal Basin by throwing up a monument to Thomas Jefferson, completed and dedicated only now, in the spring of 1943. Critics said of it that it was surrounded by so many columns that they formed a cage for the statue of Jefferson inside.
Ugly temporary wooden buildings had sprung up everywhere, even on The Mall.
The lights did not come on at night. The Capitol dome, the Washington Monument, and other buildings that had glowed for decades in electric light now stood gloomy and dark. In fact, some nights the city blacked out—that is, turned off all outdoor lights and drew heavy black curtains across the windows of lighted rooms.
The Gayety Burlesque flourished. A Washington institution that had been attended every time the show changed by no less a figure than Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, was now filled every night with raucous young men in uniform who demanded that the strippers take off more and more. And they did, until there was no more to take off. The vice squad, which had once carefully monitored these performances, turned away. It would have been unpatriotic to deny the GIs their fun.
The military presence was oppressive, particularly the anti-aircraft batteries that stood in parks and were mounted on the roofs of buildings. Even the White House grounds sprouted anti-aircraft batteries surrounded by heaps of sandbags. Lighter batteries were mounted on the White House roof.
It was a frustrating time to be a Cave Dweller. It was a sad but fascinating time to be Mrs. Roosevelt. She had three sons in the service, all of them at risk in combat zones. It was inspiring to watch her husband, the President, shoulder unprecedented responsibilities and strive to win what had at first seemed an all but unwinnable war. She tried to help him in every way she could.
She could not help but observe that the unyielding demands of global war imposed a burden on him that would have staggered a man in perfect health. But of course he was not a man in perfect health. The vigorous, exuberant young man she had married had been brought to a wheelchair by infantile paralysis. He had lost more than the use of his legs. He did not know that Dr. McIntyre let her see the diagnoses he made. The truth was that Franklin D. Roosevelt was suffering from heart problems that would have sent another man to a sedentary life.
Today, she knew, she could help him best by keeping all distractions away from him, to the extent that such a thing was possible. She had a great many things on her mind—the way Negroes were treated in the armed forces, smoldering dissatisfaction among the nation's coal miners, decent housing for the Government Girls, among many others—but she was resolved to say nothing of any of these things to the President during this secret Trident Conference.
His problems—Well, she was not prepared to say they were immeasurably more important than the problems she had in mind; but she was entirely ready to say they were immeasurably more urgent.
She didn't know every decision that needed to be taken at this conference. She suspected that among them were these—
—When would the Allies open a Second Front? The President and the Prime Minister were under unrelenting pressure from Premier Stalin to launch an invasion of Western Europe. Even if it failed and was thrown back, it would relieve the pressure on the Soviet Union, which was threatening to crack. The numbers of casualties Russia had suffered amounted to several times those the other Allies had suffered, and if it collapsed, the entire might of the German military machine would turn west and probably launch an overpowering invasion of the British Isles.
The invasion of North Africa had been a gimmick in Stalin's eyes. As he saw it, only minimal British and American forces had been engaged, while his country bled.
Sicily, Italy. These meant nothing. When would there be an invasion of France? Only that would relieve the crushing pressure on the Soviet Union.
—On the other hand, from the British and American point of view, must there be an invasion of France at all? There were two alternatives. First, the air-power people believed that Germany could be defeated from the skies. The Eighth Air Force and the RAF were taking major losses from German fighters and anti-aircraft fire; and yet their generals asserted that Germany could not much longer withstand the round-the-clock bombing. Second, Churchill postulated attacking what he called the "soft underbelly of the Axis"—meaning, attacking in the Balkans.
—If there were to be a Cross-Channel invasion, who would command? The British, who had far more experience of combat in this war than the Americans, thought General Montgomery should command. Since America would be providing the bulk of the men and materiél, the Americans took the attitude that an American should command.
—If it were to be an American, then who? Everyone assumed it would be General Marshall. The President had a different idea. He felt he needed Marshall in Washington, where his superb organizational skills and his all-but-infallible advice would be irreplaceable. The President leaned toward General Eisenhower—which was why he was here for the Trident Conference.
In addition to these major problems, the conference had to face difficulties in the North Atlantic, where U-boats seemed to sink Allied vessels almost at will, plus major problems in the Pacific, where the astounding American victory at Midway, a year before, had perhaps doomed Japan—except that Japan didn't know it yet.
The conference met chiefly in the oval Diplomatic Reception Room on the ground floor of the White House, a room chosen because it was adjacent to the Situation Room or Map Room and had a connecting door to that room. During Winston Churchill's first visit to the White House, in 1941, he had suggested to the President that he should have a special secret room where the latest reports could be constantly assembled into a situation report to which the Commander-in-Chief could refer at any time. This advice culminated in the Situation Room, its walls permanently covered with maps, with markers stuck in to show the position of forces on any given day.
Mrs. Roosevelt went down to see to it that arrangements had been made to keep the conferees supplied with coffee and tea, also pastries. Mr. Churchill would require a sip of brandy now and again during the morning, and she had told Mrs. Nesbitt to see that he had it.
In the Center Hall she encountered General Eisenhower. If she hadn't already known him, she would not have been able to recognize him by his clothes. He was in mufti—as was Field Marshall Brooke, she would soon see. His somewhat ill-fitting gray suit was intended, apparently, to disguise him, and to some extent it did.
"Mrs. Roosevelt. It is an honor."
He was still Major Eisenhower, broad and bland of face but with an engaging wide grin.
"My congratulations to you, General. You have done very well since I saw you last."
The door to the conference room was open, and he obviously did not want to enter late, so he nodded, grinned again, and hurried into the meeting.
She saw all the conferees at the President's cocktail hour, held as always in the West Sitting Hall on the second floor. Admiral King was not there. All the others were, with Sarah Churchill and Kay Summersby. General Edwin "Pa" Watson, the President's military aide, was there, too.
In past years Missy LeHand, the faithful secretary, had sat at the President's side and helped him mix his cocktails. She had never ceased to be amused by the way Franklin Roosevelt mixed his martinis: with the ceremony and precision of a pharmacist filling a prescription—though she herself never drank them, preferring and drinking whiskey. She was not there this evening. She was in the hospital, and Mrs. Roosevelt knew the President suspected he would never see her again.
Sarah Churchill wore a bright spring frock. She drank and smoked and was obviously little impressed by the ranks of the men around her. The story was told that she had been intimately friendly—not perhaps erotically friendly—with the erstwhile King Edward VIII, during his years as Prince of Wales, before he became enamored with Wallis Warfield Simpson. She had been friendly enough that she dared call him Sixy—because he had six names: Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David.
Dear old David Lloyd George often put an arm around her waist and hugged her, and she called him Taffy, because he was Welsh and in reference to the old English doggerel verse:
Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief. Taffy came to our house And stole a piece of beef.
No one else would have dared lay that one on Lloyd George, but Sarah did, and he laughed at it.
Kay Summersby had arrived at the White House in uniform, but it was the uniform of an enlisted rank, and tonight she wore a simple gray knit dress. She was quiet and deferential.
The First Lady had a speaking engagement at a dinner outside the White House, and she stopped at the cocktail party only briefly. It was one of the President's chief pleasures, and she had a sense that, no matter how hard she tried not to, she dampened these little occasions. She was a jolly person, not a somber one, but she was not the cocktail-party type. She knew it and left her husband to enjoy himself, usually with a few friends, tonight with dignitaries.
She sipped a glass of sherry and heard the Prime Minister say—"But what will it cost us ... in blood and treasure ... to subdue this fellow in his turn? If we leave him hegemonist on the Continent, what shall we have ... gained?"
She knew what he meant: that he held Joseph Stalin in no higher regard than he held Adolf Hitler.
She knew the President did not agree, that he thought that when the Nazis were defeated and the Soviets relieved of the threat of annihilation, Stalin could be convinced to enter into a permanent alliance based on peace and justice.
The President did not rise to the challenge.
General Marshall did. "If Germany defeats the Soviet Union, what will it cost in blood and treasure to —I believe your words were something like these—erase the stain of Hitlerism from the world?"
General Eisenhower, conspicuously aware of being hugely outranked here, listened gravely and said almost nothing. Kay Summersby was more at ease than he was, probably because she knew she was not expected to say anything. Sarah Churchill exchanged quiet pleasantries with her, on the side.
Kay Summersby was an exceptionally handsome woman: tall and slender and graceful, cheerful and vivacious. She was a typical English blond and had been a model and actress before the war. She had been engaged to be married to a young army officer, but he had been killed. It would have required no more than having her as his driver and companion to generate the rumors that linked her romantically to General Eisenhower, and Mrs. Roosevelt was much inclined to dismiss the gossip.
It was apparent that he wanted to be closer to her. From time to time, when one of the others said something, he would nod at Kay, as if to say, "Remember that; it's important, and we'll want to talk about it." Another rumor about the pair was that he placed a great deal of confidence in her and was often influenced by her judgments on political and diplomatic matters.
Mrs. Roosevelt had met Sarah Churchill in France in the spring of 1941, during her secret mission to Vichy France. Sarah had represented her father at that meeting. She was a beautiful young woman with auburn hair and green eyes. Her personal life had been an annoyance for her father, who had once sent her brother Randolph to the United States to try to persuade her not to marry a Viennese music-hall comedian twice her age and reputed to be a Jew. A London newspaper reported of her that she had appeared on stage as a chorus girl, "as nearly naked as the law allows." The First Lady remembered her as smart and brave.
Committed to a dinner meeting, Mrs. Roosevelt left the Trident conferees, knowing that their cocktail hour would be followed by a brief dinner and a return to their weighty deliberations.
Excerpted from MURDER IN THE LINCOLN BEDROOM by Elliott Roosevelt. Copyright © 2000 by Gretchen Roosevelt, Ford Roosevelt, and Jay Wahlin. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted December 9, 2008
In 1943, the Roosevelt White House worries about the corpse of attorney Paul Weyrich found in the Lincoln Bedroom due to the timing of the event. FDR hosts a critical conference attended by Prime Minister Churchill and European Theater of Operation Commander Eisenhower with the agenda being the plan to liberate Europe from the Nazis. <P>First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt accompanied by her friend local police officer Ed Kennelly begin investigating the homicide thinking it is probably a stand alone murder. As Eleanor digs deeper into the background of the culprit, she soon realizes that the homicide is part of a gamut to kill her spouse. With the free world at stake, Eleanor sets in motion a plan to use Franklin as bait to capture an assassin before the deadly deed occurs. <P>The latest Eleanor Roosevelt amateur sleuth novel, MURDER IN THE LINCOLN BEDROOM, is typical of the long running series. The story line is fun but a no brainer and the motives when revealed seem feeble when considering the momentous event envisioned by the criminals. Still Elliot Roosevelt writes in a easy to read, smooth manner including using self deprecating humor when other noted twentieth century figures discuss the shortcomings of the Icon¿s son. The opportunity to see the major players during the long running FDR Administration turns this novel like its twenty or so predecessors into an enjoyable, albeit one-sided experience for historical mystery buffs who are not concerned with a historiographer¿s perspective. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.