Review by Deborah K. Frontiera
This novel is set during the summer and fall of 1942 in the Sault Ste. Marie area. The fictional Portstown, with its lighthouse, is described as being on Lake Superior about half an hour from the Soo. (Perhaps based on Bay Mills?) In the first chapter, readers meet the lighthouse keeper and artist, Lorelei, and her family—a young deaf son Misha, her husband Devon, a freighter ship captain, and her grandfather Edmund, retired lighthouse keeper. Other family members and townspeople are described as well. Readers also learn that Lorelei, while supposedly missing her ship captain husband, is having a secret extramarital affair since her marriage is anything but strong. Her husband, in scenes from his point of view, has also been unfaithful. The Soo and Portstown are on the alert for German spies and possible war-time sabotage of the Soo locks. One of the main suspects in this part of the plot is a local pirate, Jake Calico.
The author’s descriptions of the lake shore and surrounding wilderness are particularly vivid and make readers feel as though they are on the scene. The author also provides backstory about the family tragedies Lorelei has suffered that make her foolish decisions throughout the story more understandable.
The second chapter takes readers to Nazi-occupied France where Andre Sorento, an expert in art, and a French-speaking Italian spy for the Germans, is sent by his spy bosses to the United States to gather intelligence on the Soo Locks (under the guise of smuggling precious art out of France to an art museum in Detroit). The fact that he is actually hiding art from the Nazis—even if it’s for his personal collection and not the greater good—makes one wonder at first if he could be a double agent.
As the plot thickens, Andre arrives in Portstown after escaping Detroit by jumping on a northbound freighter and saying he is their newly hired cook. Then in a local bar, he hears people mention that the lighthouse keeper needs help. Lorelei immediately hires him, and having dumped her previous secret lover, allows Andre into her bed. This reader wondered why a town of people all “on alert” would accept this total stranger about whom they know nothing and trust him so easily, but Andre is a very convincing liar.
While many events in the book may seem to defy logic, the author does keep readers turning the pages to see what will happen next in a mix of melodrama, steamy romance, and thriller. One particularly tense series of scenes describes Jake Calico sabotaging the lighthouse beacon during a storm, resulting in Lorelei and her grandfather performing a suspenseful rescue of people on a small boat washed onto the rocks when the beam was out. In the aftermath, Andre catches and murders Jake. Lorelei becomes an accomplice to that murder by helping Andre bury Jake behind a shelf in her fruit cellar. Lorelei also realizes that Jake is the lover she’d broken ties with—he had used a fake name with her. It’s also interesting to speculate whether Devon will catch on to what’s going on with his wife when he comes home on shore leave from his voyages between Duluth and Detroit. Devon has his own problems with drinking on board ship, resulting in being relieved of his command for a time.
Another edge-of-your-seat scene in which Andre must cook up more lies happens when Misha’s sign language teacher comes to the lighthouse for his lesson and catches Andre using the lighthouse radio to communicate with his spy group. He pushes her down the spiral staircase killing her and then hastens outside to work so he can enter after Lorelei finds the body at the bottom of the stairs and “comfort” her. When the sheriff arrives, it seems he doesn’t buy into Andre’s story completely—more tension.
This novel works best if you treat it as an Alternate History exercise, something which has become increasingly popular in recent years, especially for WWII settings. Certain events and incidents show this clearly, such as when the author has Andre boarding HMS Queen Elizabeth in Cherbourg, France, for his journey to the United States. HMS Queen Elizabeth was completed in 1940 as a luxury liner, but only transported troops during World War II. The German army would not have welcomed it into any French port or allowed a ship to go to the USA from occupied territory to an enemy of Germany!
I found some simple inconsistencies which marred this reader’s reaction to the book. For example, Lorelei calls from one room to another for her hearing-impaired son to come to her, or “reading” to him without the clarification of using sign language. At one point, Andre reads to Misha—and he doesn’t know how to sign. In late fall near the climax of the story, it is stated that Lorelei is seven months pregnant (she’s not sure if her husband or lover Jake is the father) but before that night is out, the baby is born one month early.
To her credit, the character Lorelei shows us her best when it is most needed. As such, she is a model of strength and courage that will appeal to readers of historical romance.
World Castle Publishing, Pensacola FL 2023,
Ret. $13.99, fiction, historical, thriller