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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
John Dunning is a first-rate suspense novelist whose best work has directly reflected the various facets of his career. His experience as an antiquarian book dealer served as the basis for his award-winning Cliff Janeway novels, Booked to Die and The Bookman's Wake. His work as a historian of the early days of radio (On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio) now provides the backdrop for his latest book, a big, enthralling period mystery called Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime.
Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime takes place during the summer of 1942, just months after America's entry into World War II. Its appealing hero is Jack Dulaney, a former novelist whose damaged eardrum has kept him from being drafted. In the wake of a pair of personal tragedies (the death of his oldest friend at Pearl Harbor, the end of his love affair with Holly Carnahan), Jack has lost his way. As the novel opens, he is living in California and serving a three-month sentence for assault. When word reaches him that Holly is in some sort of trouble, Jack escapes and makes his way to Holly's home in rural Pennsylvania. From there, he follows an enigmatic series of clues that lead to a small New Jersey resort town called Regina Beach.
In Regina Beach, Jack makes a number of concurrent discoveries. First, he locates Holly, who has begun to make a name for herself as lead singer in a local band. Second, he uncovers evidence of a complex conspiracy that may have resulted in the death or disappearance of Holly's father, a handyman employed by WHAR, the Regina Beach radio station. Third, he discovers his own affinity for the powerful, largely untapped medium of radio. After spending a brief apprenticeship writing "continuity" to fill the gaps between scheduled programs, Jack finds his voice and produces a series of original, controversial radio dramas that test the limits of the form.
From this point forward, Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime follows two interconnected paths: Jack's development of his own latent gifts and his simultaneous pursuit of the truth behind the disappearance of Holly's father, a disappearance that gradually sheds light on the tragic political history of an increasingly violent century. Dunning's knowledge of -- and affection for -- the world of old-time radio suffuses the narrative and lends its central dramas an aura of unimpeachable authenticity. The result of all this is a compulsively readable novel that works on a number of levels: as a mystery, as a meditation on history, as a novel of character, and as an artfully detailed portrait of a vibrant, vanished era.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).