2012-03-01 / Opinions

Book Review

Escape from Paris

Carolyn Hart has written many mysteries and won many literary prizes. Escape from Paris, however, is from her early career when she wrote suspense novels. She has stated that she was a child during World War II, and that the war dominated their lives.

This story, set in 1940, is a favorite of hers. When it was first published, in 1982, she had to cut 38,000 words. Now it has been published in the original version.

The novel opens with vignettes of people in Coventry, England, (“And nothing will ever happen in Coventry,”) Germany, where Jews are being loaded on boxcars, and Pearl Harbor, where two young American sailors are planning to “re-up” because Pearl’s an easy berth.

The plot begins with two sisters, Linda and Eleanor, Americans living in German-occupied France. Eleanor has been taking Red Cross packages to wounded soldiers in a military hospital. Linda takes her turn one day and the suspense begins. An English soldier asks her to help him escape before he is sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. Eleanor has refused to leave until she gets word from her French husband, who has been missing since Dunkirk. (If you have forgotten some of the details, this book will remind you about the early days of the war.) Linda agrees to help Michael, and realizes belatedly that she’ll have to take him to their apartment.

The German soldiers, though usually friendly to Americans in the early days of the war, are a constant threat. Posters indicate that anyone found harboring English flyers will be subject to arrest. Danger is everpresent from the Gestapo, but a special villain is Major Erich Krause. He is loyal to the German army but is especially vigilant because his superior officers want those “enemies” found.

As Eleanor and Linda search for help, in increasing danger, minor characters, good and bad, add layers of interest. A neighbor is planning to turn them in, in order to save herself; a friend lends them money, but may be in trouble from her servants. Eleanor despairs of her husband’s survival and worries about her young son, still in school but resourceful and helpful.

A good romantic suspense novel has to have romance. So in the midst of their gathering and sending the English to safety, one wounded man, Jonathan, must be nursed back to health by none other than Linda. A kind French doctor is endangering her own life by caring for those in danger, including Jonathan.

Eleanor finds a priest who is part of an escape system, and over 50 men are sent on to possible freedom from the sisters’ apartment. The question is whether Jonathan will be well enough to join them, and then the system is probably compromised when two members of the chain are arrested.

The narrative moves between Linda and Major Krause, as he seems to be closing in on the apartment. The priest advises them to be ready to leave. Linda reluctantly applies for permission to go back to the United States, and that act alerts her enemies.

Escape from Paris is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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