When Jerome Talbot’s brilliant career as an atomic physicist leads him once again to Japan, his wife, Marcia, knows it means yet another long separation, but she hopes to reunite with him soon. Confidently awaiting word to join him, she is blindsided when she receives a letter demanding divorce. Stunned and hurt, she leaves their home in Hawaii to confront Jerome in Kyoto, certain she’ll get an explanation to heal her wounded heart. But when Marcia arrives, she can’t be sure of anything . . .
Jerome has become a stranger—obsessed, cruel, unhinged, and resolved never to return home—committed only to his work, which reaches back to World War II. Even more peculiar, he’s living in unusual intimacy with a a close-knit, unnervingly private Japanese family whom Marcia is forbidden to talk to and to whom Jerome seems not only beholden, but enslaved. Marcia resolves to stay in Kyoto until she discovers the secret driving her husband mad—and the truth behind a terrible legacy that could threaten both their lives.
A “brilliant, absorbing, [and] moving” novel of romantic suspense by a New York Times–bestselling, multiple award–winning author—who was herself born in Yokohama—The Moonflower is an authentic exploration of life in postwar Japan, as well as a chilling tale of guilt, family secrets, and a marriage at risk in the never-forgotten shadow of Hiroshima (Richmond Times-Dispatch).
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Phyllis A. Whitney including rare images from the author’s estate.
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About the Author
Whitney resided in several places, including New Jersey. She traveled to every location mentioned in her books in order to better depict the settings of her stories. She earned the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master award in 1988, the Agatha in 1990, and the lifetime achievement award from the Society of Midland Authors in 1995. Whitney was working on her autobiography at the time of her passing at the age of 104.
Read an Excerpt
Outside the airport terminal building palm trees rustled shaggy leaves in the breeze and brilliant February sunshine flooded Hawaii. To Marcia Talbot, standing in the wide, open end of the waiting room, the mountains looked unbelievably green against the sky. Delicate tracings of cloud brushed the high ridges toward which she faced, while behind her lay the blank reality of the sea.
It was hard to stand there quietly, watching the beguiling panorama, when with all the urgency in her she longed to hurry time toward the moment of take-off when she would be aloft again, flying over the Pacific toward Japan. A day and a night in Honolulu had broken the long flight from San Francisco, and it had given her young daughter Laurie pleasure. But Marcia had not been fully prepared for the impact Hawaii would have upon her this time.
Eight years ago she had honeymooned here with Jerome. There were reminders on every hand to stab sharply, to increase her awareness of the uncertain future. Last night on the ocean terrace of their Waikiki hotel, when Kanaka boys had lighted the tall Hawaiian torches against a darkening sky, memory and pain and yearning had swept over her frighteningly. She and Jerome had been so marvelously happy during those weeks in Hawaii. He who was such a stranger to laughter, had been able to laugh with her, to share in her young excitement over all that was new and lovely and amusing. Even later when they'd gone home to Berkeley, the spell had held them for a while, and the strangeness that had ridden Jerome since the end of the war had faded in the early delight of their marriage. He had surely been a different person then. For a time he had been a different person.
It could not be over now, she thought — not in eight brief years. She would not believe it had come to an end. Once she saw Jerome she would know what to do, she would be able to take some action.
For a little while she stood looking off toward the mountains, a slim, rather tall young woman in navy blue, with a feathered blue hat hugging brown hair that lay in a soft natural coil on the nape of her neck. At twenty-six Marcia Talbot still wore the candid, eager look of youth and as a rule a smile came easily to her lips.
Disquiet drove her and she turned to look through the big waiting room for her daughter. Laurie lingered eagerly near a group which had come to bid one of its number good-by. If given time, she would manage to become part of the group, her mother was sure.
She was a tall child for seven, and her legs stretched long and bare beneath a red plaid suspender skirt. Above the round collar of her blouse her brown head with its two long braids was tilted back, and her brown eyes watched entranced as the departing visitor bent to receive a weight of leis about his neck.
His friends were apparently not waiting for take-off time. They exchanged handshakes, waved a final "aloha" and went out to their waiting cars. He watched them go, then turned to find Laurie regarding him with that enchanted look no one could ever resist. He responded with a ready smile.
"Hello, there," he said. "An Hawaiian pixie, I do believe."
"You look beautiful," Laurie said raptly.
He was a tall, broadly built man, perhaps in his mid-thirties, with sandy hair and gray eyes that crinkled at the corners as he laughed out loud at Laurie. His laughter had the exuberant ring of good health and good spirits, and Laurie laughed with him. She never minded whether she laughed at herself or someone else.
"Madam, you are indeed kind," he said with mock formality. "So kind, in fact, that I wonder if you would do me a favor?" "Sure," Laurie said, always ready to do anyone a favor any time.
The man removed three of the four leis from about his neck and lowered them gently over Laurie's head — a scarlet chain, a white one, and one of ginger-colored blossoms. He stood back judiciously to study the full effect. The garlands hung to her knees in front, and looped down her back behind, bedecking her as if for a parade. He did not laugh now, but adopted an expression of stunned admiration.
"Now you are beautiful too," he said. "Will you do me the honor to wear them?"
Laurie's gasp was one of pure ecstasy. Then some do-not-accept-presents-from-strangers warning must have flashed through her mind and she looked quickly about for her mother.
Smiling in amusement, Marcia moved toward the two. "You look like a fiesta float," she told her daughter.
"Can I keep them?" Laurie demanded. "Is it all right if I wear them?"
The lei-bestower looked at Laurie's mother cheerfully. "You don't mind, do you? My name's Alan Cobb, bound for Kyoto, Japan. And I can't see myself boarding a plane looking like a winner of the fifth at Pimlico. It takes an islander to wear a lei with aplomb. No one from the mainland can manage it at first try without looking foolish."
He had an engaging lack of pretension about him and Marcia found herself meeting his smile with her own. But Kyoto ... she was thinking. Did he live there? Did he know Jerome?
"You've made my daughter happy," she told him. "I'm Marcia Talbot from Berkeley, and this is Laurie. Of course she may wear your leis if you really don't want to yourself."
She said nothing about Kyoto. There was no point in mentioning that their destination was the same. Kyoto was a city. It was probable that their paths would not cross again once they were there.
Under the circumstances it seemed natural to wander through the building with Alan Cobb and stand looking out over the flat, reclaimed land of the flying field, waiting for their plane to be announced.
Laurie said, "I went swimming at Waikiki yesterday." And Alan Cobb said, "So did I. Went out on a surfboard too, and fell off three times. Head first."
The two were good friends by the time the loudspeaker proclaimed the flight to Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. With other passengers they hurried out into the whipping wind. A stewardess met them at the plane door to welcome them aboard and gestured Marcia and Laurie up front in the tourist section. Laurie waved to her new friend, two seats back across the aisle, and bounced into the window seat while her mother settled more quietly beside her.
This was the last lap, Marcia told herself in relief. Tomorrow — Tokyo. And surely Jerome would be at the airport to meet them. At the very thought her breathing quickened and her natural optimism and confidence surged back full force. Of course he would meet them, and the disturbing things he had written in his letter would be nullified. After all, she had been through just such a crisis once before. She had solved the problem then and she could solve it now. Oh, hurry, hurry, hurry! she told the plane.
Now that she was back in the air she felt hopeful again and ready to enjoy the adventure of this flight across the Pacific.
"Look, there's our hotel!" Laurie cried, looking down and squirming against the pull of her seat belt.
The long curve of Waikiki beach with its creaming surf lay below, and the familiar jagged point of Diamond Head. Then the plane banked away from Honolulu and the view vanished beneath a tilted wing as they turned out over the ocean. They were really on the way now, toward the islands of Japan. One stop for refueling at Wake, then Haneda Airport.
"Will Daddy be there to meet us?" Laurie asked.
Lest Laurie be disappointed when the time came, it was better not to speak too hopefully. After all, Marcia had not dared to give Jerome advance warning of her plans for fear he might cable her not to come. She had simply cabled him at the last minute that she and Laurie would arrive in Tokyo on such and such a plane and date. By the time he received the message, he would have no choice but whether or not to meet them.
"We have to remember that it's an all-day trip from Kyoto to Tokyo, and he may be too busy to come," she told Laurie. "We mustn't count on it. He'll come if he can."
"Oh, I know he will," Laurie said, and her eyes glowed in anticipation.
Jerome had never fallen naturally into the role of father. Perhaps that made him seem all the more fascinating to a father-hungry little girl. It had been hard for Laurie to contain her eagerness to be with him, once she knew they were to make this trip.
Marcia leaned her head against a pillow and closed her eyes, listening to the steady roar of the motors as the plane ate away the miles. Behind closed lids she could see Jerome's face with disturbing clarity. The intense dark blue of his eyes with winged black brows above them, the mouth that could tighten so grimly in anger, yet which she had always been able to coax into a smile. Would he be angry with her now?
She had seen him angry at others only once or twice and had been frightened by his cold fury. But he had never turned that fury upon her, no matter what the provocation. And sometimes she must surely have provoked him. What a child she had been when she'd married him at eighteen — seventeen years younger than he.
When Jerome Talbot had first appeared in her father's house she had been little more than Laurie's age. That was at the start of the war with Japan, when Jerome was the most gifted of her father's "bright young men" of science. Her father, Merrill Vance, had been unknown in those days, except in certain circles, just as the words "atom" and "radiation" had no significance for the general public. But Jerome had studied under Dr. Vance, worked with him in the university laboratory, and been a welcome guest in the Vance home. And he had seemed a hero out of a story book to an impressionable little girl.
What an exciting young man he had been in those days, with all that nervous drive and energy, all the brilliance and promise her father had seen in him. Dark and lean and slender — too lean for his height — he was like a thin steel blade that rang with vibrancy.
By the time of Hiroshima, Marcia had been thirteen and romantically, secretly, "in love" with Jerome. Where other girls her age had worshiped movie actors from afar, she had focused on someone who came in and out of her own house.
Since Jerome Talbot was too valuable a man to be permitted out of the laboratory during the war and since he was working on some project of hush-hush importance, he did not get into uniform. Often he went on long trips across the country, meeting with other men of science, going to Washington on secret missions.
Dr. Vance was one of the few who had worked knowingly on those secret plans. Yet when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he had not been able to face the consequences. Illness had betrayed him in the last year of his work and with his lowered vitality he could no longer achieve the objective, long-range view that was, under the circumstances, necessary. He had withdrawn from his work to the unhappy life of an invalid and Marcia remembered her father in those years with sadness.
Jerome went out to Japan with the Occupation forces and made straight for Hiroshima. Radiation was his business and he wanted to know more about it firsthand. He had stayed in Japan. Stayed until Merrill Vance's death, some four years later. That had brought him home to find Marcia grown up in his absence.
The roar of plane engines recalled her to the present and in the seat beside her Laurie stirred and prodded her mother.
"Look at the clouds — they're like a king's court, aren't they?" Marcia played the cloud game for a while, counting queens and ladies in waiting in the vast cloud world massed on the horizon and beneath the belly of their plane.
At least once every half hour Laurie would climb over her mother's feet and get a drink at the water cooler just ahead of their front seat. And sometimes she stretched her legs with a walk up and down the aisle. The stewardess had furnished a plastic bag for the leis and they were still the basis for friendship. Several times Laurie stopped to speak to Mr. Cobb, with whom she was now on heart-to-heart terms.
"He's been in Japan before," she reported. "He's a writer or something and he's going to work on a book out there. He's going to teach too, in a college in Kyoto for a year."
Marcia fixed her daughter with a sympathetic but knowing eye. "He volunteered all this information, did he?" Laurie grinned, unabashed.
The meal made a welcome interlude, and afterwards, when the stewardess began bedding everyone down for the long night flight, handing out pillows and blankets, turning off the overhead lights, Alan Cobb came across the aisle to Marcia's seat.
"It occurs to me," he said, "that this young lady might sleep more soundly if she could stretch out on two seats. There's a vacant one next to mine and if she'd like to take over I'll be happy to change places with her."
For just an instant Marcia hesitated. Alan Cobb seemed pleasant enough, but he might like to talk and she wasn't sure she could face conversation with a stranger just now. She looked up at him uncertainly and found that he was watching her with a quizzical air, his eyes amused.
"I promise you I don't snore," he said. "And if you chatter in my ear I'll squelch you. I mean to get some sleep."
He had easily read her mind and she thanked him a little sheepishly. When Laurie had been made comfortable, Marcia slipped into the window seat and curled up with her pillow resting against the wall of the plane. Alan Cobb, in the seat next to her, wrapped himself in his blanket and appeared to fall asleep at once.
Marcia could not resist parting the curtains and peering out at the vast starry sky, with edges of daylight still to be seen on the horizon, and all that roiling black ocean beneath. She felt a sense of wonder and excitement and she could not sleep. What fun it would have been to make this trip for the first time with Jerome. She had done so little traveling with him.
How clearly and achingly she could remember him as he had been after her father's death, when he had first been aware of her as a grown young woman plainly in love with him. She had realized at once the change in him when he returned from Japan. He had never been a gay, or light-hearted person, but now he seemed more somber and serious than ever. At times she had thought him oddly haunted. Perhaps by the shadow of Hiroshima? She did not know. She knew only that she had been able to tease him into laughter and that he had responded as if, through her, he could forget whatever it was that lay behind him in Japan.
Her mother had seen well enough what was happening and she had thrown her weight against it. "He reminds me of Lucifer, Marcia," she had said one time. "It gives me an uncomfortable feeling to have a dark angel flitting in and out of my house."
Marcia had seized upon the poetry of that image and it had added to Jerome's fascination for her. It was true that he burned bright as Lucifer and that there was a darkness in him as well.
Her mother said, "For heaven's sake forget him, darling. He's too old for you. Besides, no woman in her right mind should marry a scientist. Science is much worse than the medical profession, or even golf."
"You married a scientist," said Marcia.
Mrs. Vance nodded sadly. "Yes, and eight nights out of every seven I couldn't tell whether or not he would be home for dinner."
But Marcia knew her words were loving and that she would never have traded places with any other wife. Adoring her father as she had, Marcia felt she could hardly have asked for a husband who would better suit her than Jerome.
At first their marriage had seemed a wonderfully satisfying thing. If he turned to her for youth and laughter and life, she turned to him for wisdom and adult counsel. During the first year or so she had had the feeling that he clung to her as if she held something of salvation for him, as if there were some safety in her arms that he could find nowhere else. She had not understood, but she had held him close and had built her life wholly around him and for him.
There had been one especially strange thing — his reluctance to talk of Japan. Or at least he would talk of it only superficially. Once she had asked him if he would ever go back and he had looked at her with a sudden anger that had frightened her. But then he caught her in his arms and she knew that whatever had angered him, his displeasure had not been with her.
And yet, soon after Laurie's birth, he had returned to Kyoto. At first Marcia had not been concerned. He had talked little to her about his work — as her father had talked little to his wife and daughter — but she knew he was interested in the experiments of one Kyoto scientist in particular. It did not seem strange that he felt he must return to Japan and continue the work he had dropped after her father's death. He would send for her eventually and she would go eagerly to join him.
Excerpted from "The Moonflower"
Copyright © 1958 Phyllis A. Whitney.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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