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Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime: A Novel

1 rating: 1.0
A book by John Dunning

John Dunning's previous novels featuring a sleuth who's an expert in rare and collectible books won this former bookstore owner a devoted following; first editions ofBooked to DieandThe Bookman's Wakeroutinely fetch high sums in stores like the one Dunning … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: John Dunning
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Scribner
1 review about Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime: A Novel

Radio Nowhere

  • Dec 9, 2010
Dunning's sprawling mystery (478 pages in the hardback is Michneresque for the mystery genre) encompasses World War II, Nazi spy landings on the East coast, Irish freedom fighters, horse-racing culture,  and the era of live radio drama, and ultimately falls prey to its grand ambitions.

Despite its extra weight, the story is light on its feet, moving quickly as hero Jack Dulaney walks away from a prison labor gang in California to pursue the woman he finally realizes he shouldn't have let get away--and who may be in danger.  His search takes him cross-country to New Jersey, where Holly is now a local torch-singer sensation with a regular radio spot under an assumed name.  There Jack takes on his own fake name in his attempt to solve the mystery of the danger she is in while finding out he has a gift as a script writer at the local radio station which has ambitions of becoming as big as the young radio networks beginning to dominate programming.

The problem is that with all these subtexts in the plot, there is no time to let the mystery develop with the proper pacing of success, failure, problem-solving, failure, danger, then success again, a pattern we have come to expect from a mystery.  We know the hero will solve the mystery, but we want to see him work for it, making the mistakes that we'd make.  Instead, Jack Dulaney seems never to make a false step, a wrong guess.  There are no false leads, dead ends, red herrings.  He is too perfect to be real; he even solved some of the knottiest mysteries (and wrote his best radio screenplays) in his dreams!  Even Sherlock Holmes' seemingly superhuman mystery resolutions arose from his intense power of observation and his flawless application of logic, not from his dreams  I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at his literally unbelievable good-fortune.

Perhaps Dunning realized he was writing beyond the back cover of the mystery genre, but was unwilling or unable to sacrifice the background of the story to build back in the false trails and problem-solving that would have made the mystery more real--but added to the length of the book.  Indeed, as the book is really more about the age of live radio drama in 1942 in the midst of World War II than it is about the mystery that Dulaney was trying to uncover, Dunning might have been better to abandon the mystery altogether and tell the  story as period fiction, since that part of the book is the more successful and the more interesting. 

And given that freedom from the word-count restraints of the mystery genre, Dunning might have been able to make his hero less perfect, less heroic--and more believable.

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