Tuesday, 17 April 2012
A-Z Challenge Review: Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen
Anyway, what a silly lady I am to keep this book on my TBR pile for so long because it's a terrific read.
Plot: The book is set in New York in around 1919-20. The First World War is over, but the consequences to those who fought in the war are still very apparent. Our hero, Sutton, had his hand injured during combat and now can no longer play the much loved piano; our other hero, Jack, who was a communications expert in the war, suffers from paralysing flash backs and Sutton's sister has a fiance whose shell shock is so bad he can barely function. The recovery from war isn't the main theme of the book but occasionally there are things that happen, or comments from people which brings it into sharp focus for a time before it fades back into the background. As the book begins Sutton has been expelled from school (or College as it probably would be now) after being discovered that he was having a relationship with a male teacher. He's struggling to survive in New York but unwilling to go back home to his rich family in Kansas in disgrace. He manages to get a job in a diner, and becomes friends with Jack and Harry who run the emporium next door (a shop which sells all sorts of odds and ends). During this time Sutton discovers that his hand has healed sufficiently to play the piano again and he gets involved with Jack's schemes to broadcast over the radio.
Characters: This book is truly a character based story. On the surface nothing much happens in the plot. Jack is fanatical about radio and they establish a schedule to broadcast Sutton's piano, Sutton has to face up to his past actions and his family. However, what is important is how the characters are very much products of their time and their reactions to the things that happen. Jack is a charmer, who lives life to the full. He spends his days working in the shop set up by his parents and his nights on the town, visiting the baths and jazz bars with his friends. This is partly because he suffers from nightmares but it's also a way for him to work off some of his endless energy. He also suffers from fears about losing his shop, and being carted off the lunatic asylum because of his flashbacks. It tempers his brash confidence and shows a weaker side to Jack which made me like him a great deal. Compared to Jack, Sutton is a wide-eyed innocent, although he's often annoyed when called that as he sees himself as very mature. The fun of the story is watching this pair dance round their attraction and seeing how their different temperaments soothe something in the other. Jack is less brash around Sutton and Sutton is more sure of himself around Jack. I enjoyed the way that the men speak, the witty one liners and the way that Jack especially, shrugs off conflict through a few well chosen words. Another part which I liked was the way the two different characters were able to show us the two different sides of society. Jack shows Sutton the jazz clubs and bars, the dive cafes and the seamier side to New York. Jazz is seen as totally scandalous but Sutton loves music in all its forms and Jazz calls to him. Later Sutton and Jack visit the posh hotels and parties where Jack feels out of place but which shows the reader how much of divide there was between those in the upper classes and those struggling for their next penny. Jack and his friends frequently pool resources and it's unusual for any of them to have but a few dollars in their wallet.
Overall: I love a book which can immerse me in an era, and this certainly managed that. I finished the book feeling like I'd had a well rounded and accurate view of not only the city of New York but society in that city, of music, relationships and the newest inventions and crazes. We see the high and low lights of living in New York through the eyes of Sutton and Jack. More than that though we get to share in the good, fun times, the times when things are tight, when things are rough and justice comes from a gun not the police. We see the tolerance of the city, and the intolerance. We also get into the hearts of two men, who despite their different backgrounds and personalities, fall deeply in love. It's a very romantic story and I was left full of happiness for these characters.
I feel like I've only really touched briefly on many of things I liked about this book. I loved the characters; the story; the way that there's so much going on all the time and yet everything is effortlessly pulled together by the end; the sheer energy and complexity of the setting. Put simply, it's a must read and I urge all lovers of historical romances to give this not often used era a try. You won't regret it. Grade: Excellent.
Buy this book HERE.