Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime

Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime

4.2 8
by John Dunning

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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


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 the past, 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.

Editorial Reviews
The 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

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 (

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Dunning's obvious love for radio as a medium of artistic expression and his knowledge of its history go a long way toward redeeming an occasionally heavy-handed narrative that takes a turn for melodrama several times too often. It's May 1942, and Jack Delaney--32, a published but impoverished Southern novelist and short story writer--is working in the stables of a racetrack in Oakland, Calif. A fight with some soldiers who mistake Jack's draft deferment (he is deaf in one ear) for cowardice puts him in a work camp until his traveling companion, an out-of-work radio actor named Kendall, helps him escape. But Kendall is soon killed, sending Jack on a complicated chase cross-country, seeking the girl he left behind and her father, who seems to have stirred things up by mailing Jack some top-secret material. Gaines manages to bring to life a large cast of eccentric radio types, Nazi spies and IRA sympathizers: all that's missing is real sound effects to make this an elongated version of "The Shadow" or "Secret Agent X-9." Simultaneous release with the Scribner hardcover. (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1942, writer/drifter Jack Dulaney breaks out of jail when he gets a mysterious message that his long-lost love, Holly, may be in trouble. He traces her to a small New Jersey shore town, changes his name, and finds work as a writer at the local radio station. Holly's father has vanished and is somehow linked to the disappearance of a famous radio actor six years ago. Dulaney quickly adapts to radio and discovers his true talent--writing scripts. But his life is ever in danger as he hunts for pieces to the puzzle. Dunning, who gained popularity with the well-received Bookman mysteries (Booked To Die), is also an expert on old-time radio (On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio). Here, he has created an intriguing premise that makes radio production a central force tying the characters and plot together. Unfortunately, although the appealing Dulaney will hold the interest of many readers, the descriptive style leans toward tedium and the resolution leaves many loose ends. Recommended for larger public libraries or where the author is in demand. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/00.]--Karen T. Bilton, Cedar Mill Community Lib., Portland, OR Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Grandly romantic, nostalgic WWII epic of radio days, summer nights, and Nazis lurking about New Jersey, from the highly regarded book collector and mystery-writer (The Bookman's Wake, 1995, etc.). Stepping outside the conventions of his own genre, Dunning aspires to literary greatness and beat-the-bad-guys suspense with this doorstopper-length chronicle of a drifter searching for redemption in a fictional Jersey shore town during the summer of 1942. Jack Dulaney, a novelist whose life is on the skids (despite his big-name agent), escapes from a California chain-gang with the help of Pat Kendall, an acquaintance who makes spare change doing voices as a radio actor. The two agree to meet in the Pennsylvania coal town of Dulaney's lost only love, Holly Carnahan. Dulaney bums his way cross-country to find the Carnahan home an empty wreck with Kendall's corpse tossed inside. Some clues lead him to Jersey's whistle-stop Regina Beach, where Dulaney, now under an alias, finds Holly under an alias singing in a jazz band that occasionally broadcasts from station WHAR. Dulaney joins the studio crew as a writer, discovering a new joy in the loose, anything-goes magic of radio while staying one step ahead of German thugs. Holly, uncertain whether to let their romance reignite, is searching for her father, who had an affair with one of the station's habitués before disappearing inexplicably. Dulaney soon learns of a homicidal Nazi sympathizer hiding behind the good-natured wartime solidarity of his radio troupe. Attempting to expose him, Delaney writes a series of radio plays about prison camp victims—a series that will draw him ever closer to the truth. As moodyandmeandering as aHemingway epic (Dulaney gets part of his alias from bell-toller Robert Jordan), Dunning's magnum opus celebrates the forgotten genius of radio, and the winsome heroics of ordinary people caught up in the passion of the great war. Author tour; radio satellite tour

From the Publisher
Linda Fairstein author of Cold Hit John Dunning, one of the master storytellers of our time, has written a hauntingly evocative tale of suspense. Set during World War II, Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime transports the reader. The mystery, the romance, the music, the voices of that era's radio, echo in memory long after the last page is turned.

Clive Cussler author of Atlantis Found John Dunning has to be one of the finest writers in America. As always, he has put together a winning mix of intrigue, romance, conspiracy, and shrewd villains. Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime is brilliantly conceived from start to finish. John delivers, and no reader could ask for more.

Janet Evanovich author of Hot Six What a great book — full of suspense, romance, and mesmerizing old-time radio lore. And that wonderful 1942 station, WHAR, is in my favorite state, New Jersey! If you haven't yet discovered John Dunning, you have a treat in store.

Thomas Perry author of Blood Money A fascinating, rich novel, densely populated with realistic people who are inspired by their work, hate convincingly, do noble things out of love, and take great risks to solve mysteries that matter.

Stuart M. Kaminsky author of the Toby Peters novels and Vengeance Reading John Dunning's Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime is like going to radio lovers heaven. He brings the excitement of listening to and working in radio to life on almost every page. But he doesn't stop there. This WWII thriller set in and around a radio station in New Jersey in 1942 evokes the very style of old-time radio drama. It reads like the best of the radio thrillers. I love this book.

Greg Iles author of 24 Hours and The Quiet Game In a world of overhyped authors, John Dunning is the real thing. He has the storyteller's gift, mastery of the writer's craft, and deep insight into human behavior. Dunning's books are welcome gifts to us all.

Nevada Barr author of Deep South John Dunning never, ever disappoints. Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime has as many layers as history itself. This is a terrific book.

Peter Robinson author of In a Dry Season This is a beautiful and haunting book. Not only does Mr. Dunning offer us a terrific plot and intriguing characters, he also re-creates a whole bygone era and provides an insider's view of the workings of a small wartime radio station. Fascinating stuff.

Product Details

Pocket Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.78(w) x 6.76(h) x 1.18(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 2

Today, if she should by some trick materialize in the jail beside him, he could do a better job explaining it to her. It began with the fact that his lifelong pal had seen her first. He would always think of them as a couple, even if the stars weren't working and they never actually married. She knew this, of course, but there are shades of truth. He and Tom had been closer than brothers.

Most people would say that didn't matter now. Tom Rooney was at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, but even after his death she was still, in Dulaney's mind, Tom's woman. He would not come slithering upon her like some carpetbagger, wearing the shoes of a summer soldier. Tom would come calling, like Marley in chains.

But she was always on his mind as he worked his way across the land, and he'd thought about little else since yesterday noon. It had begun with the clang of the jailhouse door, the deputy waking him from a light sleep. "You got comp'ny, Dulaney. Fella says he's your lawyer."

Dulaney didn't have a lawyer. It had to be Kendall: nobody else would know or care where he might possibly be. The deputy opened the cell and motioned Dulaney ahead of him, along a dimly lit hallway to a little room at the end. The window was barred and the room was empty except for a battered wooden table and two rickety chairs.

Kendall was sitting in one of the chairs. He didn't look like a lawyer. His clothes, like Dulaney's, were those of a workingman. His shoes were scuffed and coming out at the toes. He looked like what he was, an out-of-work radio actor who had seen better days.

They shook hands and Dulaney sat at the table. The deputy stayed in the room, at the edge of earshot.

"How'd you find me, Marty?"

Kendall smiled sadly. "You weren't at the hotel, so I tried the café. I got there just as the paddy wagon was pulling out."

"I'm a little amazed they let you in here."

Kendall lowered his voice, cutting his eyes at the deputy. "I keep telling you, Jack, I was a damn good actor in my day. So what happened?"

Dulaney smiled. "Just a little mayhem. Resisting arrest. Assault on a police officer. Kid stuff."

Kendall stifled the urge to laugh. Dulaney noticed streaks of gray in his mustache and in the curly hair around his ears. He had always thought of Kendall as around forty but now he thought fifty was closer.

He told Kendall how the trouble had started. He had gone out to get something to eat. Some sailors and some girls started razzing him about being in the home guard. "I guess I was the only fellow in the place out of uniform. This is nothing new. In the Civil War women would see a man out of uniform and they'd shame him in public."

Kendall said nothing. "They probably don't bother you," Dulaney said. "You're a bit older than me. And most of the time I don't let it bother me. But this one gal wouldn't leave it alone. She had the waiter bring me some squash. That's supposed to be the last word in insults. You feed squash to the home guard so the color'll stay bright in their backbones."

"So what did you do?"

"Hell, I like squash. Figured I might as well eat it." Dulaney leaned forward. "I've been hungry enough times that I'm not about to let good food get chucked just because some silly female wasn't raised right. What happened next is probably in the arrest report."

"They say you took on the whole café."

"One thing led to another. I finally told those boys they'd end up in the clap shack if they didn't quit messing with whores. I didn't have to say that, but there we were. The sailors had to stand up and they came up short. If those are the best fighting men we've got in this war, we may be in trouble."

The deputy cleared his throat. "You boys start winding it up."

"It didn't last long. The gendarmes came, four big cops with their billies out." Dulaney touched his head, a tender place the size of a peach.

"I wish you hadn't taken on the cops, Jack."

"I've got nothing against cops as a rule, but the sight of a billy club gets my back up. I've known too many good people who got their heads busted open just because they were down on their luck. So here I am."

"I hear judges get real mean when you start fighting with cops."

"The guard says he'll give me six months, unless I've got the money for the fine. That seems to be automatic for a first offense. If I volunteer to go to the work camp he'll cut my time in half."

"What are you talking about, a chain gang?"

"They don't call it that and they don't chain you together. I get the feeling it's not official and maybe that's why we get to choose. The word comes back to the prisoners through the guards — if you work, they'll cut your time; if you don't, you go to jail and serve it all."

"Man, that stinks. Goddamn judge is probably getting paid off."

"Maybe so, but I'm going to take it. I'll use it in a book."

Kendall didn't say anything but again Dulaney felt a strain in the room between them. He couldn't put his finger on it, what it was about Kendall that had bothered him from the start. He thought there was a lie somewhere, that some part of Kendall's old life had been omitted or fabricated, and Kendall couldn't lie without turning away. Kendall had been an accomplished radio actor who could live a dozen lies a week on the air, but in real life he was like Dulaney: he couldn't lie to a friend.

"What's the matter with you, Marty? Something's been eating you since the day we met."

The deputy's voice cut across the room. "You boys about done?"

"Give us one more minute," Dulaney said.

He leaned over, and softly, so the guard wouldn't hear, said, "Are you in trouble with the law?"

"Hell no. I've never even been inside a jail before today. Christ, why would you even think of something like that?"

"I've been around enough men on the lam to know another one when I see him. Something's been on your mind, right from the start."

Kendall shook his head, a slight movement, barely perceptible. "That doesn't make any sense. How could I be running from the law and still trying to get back into radio?"

Dulaney waited but Kendall did not enlighten him. The guard made a time's-up motion with his hands. Dulaney said, "Look, I'd appreciate it if you'd check me out of that hotel. Pick up my papers and my notes. There's a half-finished story I'm working on: make sure you get that. Put it in a box and stash it in the trunk of the car."

"Consider it done."

"You've been a good friend, Marty. Even if I'm not always sure I know you."

"Let's go, boys," the deputy said.

But then at the last moment Kendall said, "Just one more thing. Do you know a woman named Holly Carnahan?"

Dulaney tensed. "Yes, I know Holly."

"There's a letter for you at the hotel. It just came today. It's three months old."

"Go back to the hotel right now," Dulaney said. "Open it and read it, then come here tomorrow and tell me what it says."

Copyright © 2001 by John Dunning

Meet the Author

John Dunning has revealed some of book collecting’s most shocking secrets in his bestselling series of crime novels featuring Cliff Janeway: Booked to Die, which won the prestigious Nero Wolfe award; The Bookman’s Wake, a New York Times Notable Book; and the New York Times bestsellers The Bookman’s Promise, The Sign of the Book, and The Bookwoman’s Last Fling. He is also the author of the Edgar Award-nominated Deadline, The Holland Suggestions, and Two O’Clock, Eastern Wartime. An expert on rare and collectible books, he owned the Old Algonquin Bookstore in Denver for many years. He lives in Denver, Colorado. Visit

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Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
jtchun3 More than 1 year ago
John Dunnning never misses. This kept me turning the pages late into the night. I learned a ton about radio and radio history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
PatrickZJD More than 1 year ago
I came across this novel as a remainder at a local dollar store, so I have no quibble at all about the value of this book! Dunning's style is quite refreshing in its clarity and simplicity, and the historical subtext of the Boer War in this book was a welcome surprise (even though I do not agree with Dunning's spin on the British Empire in South Africa here). Still, an earlier reviewer got it correct: the plethora of supporting characters was almost overwhelming at times, and indeed, the ending of the book, while thrilling, smacked a little too much of an author having written himself into a corner with no better means of extricating himself therefrom. Three other quibbles I have with this book are Jack Dulaney's come-from-nowhere talent at directing, much less writing, a radio script with no previous knowledge or experience of scriptwriting; the whole self-importance of the Negro radio show (which served only as a cipher -- honestly, given the times the novel was set in, wouldn't a more realistic portrayal of ANY ethnic group have been just as groundbreaking?), and, indeed, the entire backdrop of radio as a whole (I know it's the author's hobby, but honestly, as Dunning himself wrote, the good old days are not as good to one who has lived through them); and, most surprisingly and disappointingly, a subtle but pervasive sterility as to the environment of the novel. Truthfully, I was expecting South Jersey in the earliest days of America's involvement in WW2 to be more interesting or romantic than the flat way Dunning presents it to be here. Still and all, these negative aspects should not dissuade the discerning mystery-thriller reader from giving this book a try. There are far worse things one can read about than WHAR and the mysteries swirling around the radio station...especially for only a dollar.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What an unexpected pleasure. From the first words it held my attention. I'm a fan of well developed characters and this book has them. The protagonist, a man on the run from the law trying to find the woman he loves, is one of the most fascinating fictional characters I've run across. The plot is well crafted. The historicity of the story was excellent; first rate. When I finished this book at one in the morning I couldn't do anything but lay there and marvel at the quality of the work. I highly recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dunning's book was a fast read. It had a very good plot that hooked me right away and held me to the very end. The only negative was that it had too many supporting characters. I began to lose track of them and had to go back several times to remember who was who. Also Dunning did not tie up the plot neatly at the end. It left me with several questions. Overall the book gets a B+.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am very fond of Dunning's 'rare book' mysteries, and I worked in radio around 1950, so I was looking forward to this book. But I put it down with 60 pages to go, since I did not care what happened to any of the characters. The plot is odd with no more rationality than a Robert Ludlum book. The tone is depressed and the characters all sound alike. I assume the plot has something to do with Nazi spies, but I don't really care.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was excellent, I chose it from the library because I have read his previous books. This one was completely different from the others, but what a find! Well researched, and well written. It actually made you feel as if you were there and knew the characters personally.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1942 Southern California, writer Jack Dulaney loves the untouchable Holly Carnahan. Jack struggles with producing a second novel, earning money by walking horses at the track. When Holly flees to Regina Beach, New Jersey in search of her missing dad, Jack follows out of concern for his beloved¿s safety.

In the Jersey south shore community, Jack lands a job as a writer at radio station WHAR. He soon realizes that he is quite good at cranking out well-written radio dramas. Perhaps it is because of his writing skills that allow Jack to notice the strange behavior on the part of WHAR employees. He finds sudden disappearances as mysterious as the disappearance of Holly¿s dad and certain links to the Nazis. Jack worries that Holly is in danger while she is concerned that her actions brought danger to him.

TWO O¿CLOCK, EASTERN WARTIME is a fabulous historical fiction novel that vividly brings to life a small East Coast community during World War II. The historical perspective, especially that of the powerful role of radio as a forerunner of television, is brilliantly depicted. The mystery stays subtlety in the shadows, truly enhancing John Dunning¿s homage to the communication role radio played during wartime. Fans of World War II dramas will find Mr. Dunning¿s novel endearing for its resplendent account of a bygone era.

Harriet Klausner