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 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).
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.
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.
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 victimsa 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.
Read an Excerpt
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