Cover image for Two o'clock, eastern wartime : a novel
Two o'clock, eastern wartime : a novel
Dunning, John, 1942-
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Publication Information:
New York : Scribner, [2001]

Physical Description:
478 pages ; 25 cm
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Widely acclaimed for his groundbreaking crime novels "Booked to Die" and "The Bookman's Wake," award-winning author John Dunning triumphantly returns with a riveting new thriller that takes us back to the summer of 1942, when radio was in its prime, when daylight saving time gave way to "wartime," when stations like WHAR on the New Jersey coast struggled to create programming that entertained and inspired a nation in its dark hour.

Into this intense community of radio artists and technicians in Regina Beach, New Jersey, come Jack Dulaney and Holly Carnahan. They are determined to find Holly's missing father, whose last desperate word came from this noisy seaside town. Holly sings like an angel and has what it takes to become a star. Jack -- a racetrack hot-walker and novelist who's hit every kind of trouble in his travels from sea to sea -- tries out as a writer at WHAR and soon discovers a passion for radio and a natural talent for script writing.

While absorbing the ways of radio, from writing to directing, he meets some extraordinarily brave and gifted people who touch his life in ways he could not have imagined -- actress

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Dunning's crime novels make the most of the author's avocations. A former antiquarian bookseller, he used the book trade to good advantage in Booked to Die (1992) and The Bookman's Wake (1995). Now another of his passions--old-time radio--provides the backdrop for a novel that begs comparison with such outstanding period thrillers as Caleb Carr's Alienist (1994) and Joseph Kanon's Los Alamos (1997). When Jack Dulaney, a novelist on the skids, arrives at the New Jersey shore in the summer of 1942, he's looking for his estranged girlfriend, Holly Carnahan, who is in turn looking for her father, who has vanished. Holly becomes a singer at a beachfront bar, and Jack takes work as a continuity writer for the local radio station, WHAR. Soon he's hooked by the magic of radio, and together with a devoted band of sound engineers, directors, and producers, he's using the still-new medium to create timely, controversial drama. The radio station, though, seems also to be the nexus of the growing mystery surrounding the disappearance of not only Holly's father but also a British actor. As Jack digs further, he uncovers a nest of German spies who have their own plans for WHAR. The espionage plot is nicely developed, and the home-front ambience--especially the paranoia implicit in the seaside setting--proves thoroughly compelling, but it's the authenticity of the radio world that really drives the story. Dunning knows his subject thoroughly, and he masterfully re-creates the excitement of a group of creative individuals working together in a medium that, at this particular moment, seemed certain to change the nature of artistic expression. (That radio utterly failed to live up to its artistic promise gives the novel a tragic dimension far beyond the story line.) Superb entertainment and fascinating media history. ^-Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

Dunning's obvious love for radio as a medium of artistic expression and his knowledge of its history go a long way toward redeeming an occasionally heavy-handed narrative that takes a turn for melodrama several times too often. It's May 1942, and Jack DelaneyÄ32, a published but impoverished Southern novelist and short story writerÄis working in the stables of a racetrack in Oakland, Calif. A fight with some soldiers who mistake Jack's draft deferment (he is deaf in one ear) for cowardice puts him in a work camp until his traveling companion, an out-of-work radio actor named Kendall, helps him escape. But Kendall is soon killed, sending Jack on a complicated chase cross-country, seeking the girl he left behind and her father, who seems to have stirred things up by mailing Jack some top-secret material. Gaines manages to bring to life a large cast of eccentric radio types, Nazi spies and IRA sympathizers: all that's missing is real sound effects to make this an elongated version of "The Shadow" or "Secret Agent X-9." Simultaneous release with the Scribner hardcover. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Dunning's audiobook is set in 1942, during the dark early stages of America's involvement in World War II. Writer Jack Dulaney drifts to a New Jersey radio station searching for the person who killed a traveling companion. He obtains a writer's job at the station and soon produces a series of successful radio dramas. Jack also encounters an old girlfriend, Holly Carnahan, who came to the station in search of her missing father. They both discover that Holly's father and Jack's friend were killed by members of a German spy ring, and they themselves are now targets. While this is an old tale, read by George Guidall, the background setting of live radio, plus an interesting mix of characters, makes it an engaging story. An excellent addition to any audiobook collection. Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ., Parkersburg (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Dulaney dreamed there was no war. A thousand years had passed and he had come to the end of an endless journey, closing an infinite circle in time and space. But when he opened his eyes it was still Sunday, May 3, 1942. He had slept less than two hours. The sky outside his window had just gone dark but the moon was up, shrinking his world to a small silver square on the floor, this eight-by-ten room with bars. His eyes probed the shadows beyond his cell -- the dark hallway, the line of light on the far side of the bullpen where the office was. He had come awake thinking of Holly. His peace had been shaken. The steadiness born in his soul now drained away, leaving a growing sense of unease. He heard the radio droning in the outer office. Charlie McCarthy had given way to Walter Winchell with no loss of comedy, but even when the jailer laughed at something Winchell had said, even with the sound of another human voice in close proximity, Dulaney felt isolated, alone on an alien planet in a time he barely knew. Winchell had a name for Hitler's gang. The Ratzis had struck again. Exeter had been bombed in retaliation for RAF raids on Lübeck and Rostock. There was an almost imperceptible lull as Winchell hit a word beyond his grade-school vocabulary. Baedeker raids, Dulaney thought as if coaching. They were called Baedeker raids because they were aimed at the guidebook towns that symbolized British antiquity. Winchell blew the word, but by then Dulaney was only half listening. He was thinking about Holly and the last time he had seen her, almost two years ago in New York. He had collected his pay and gone back to his apartment to clear out his stuff, and there she was waiting for him. She had been sitting on the floor all night, in the hallway outside his door. They walked through Central Park and the air was clear and cold, the trees stripped bare in the third week of autumn and the leaves rustling under their feet. The skyline loomed over the trees and at last she made the effort to say her piece. She looped her arm in his and drew him close. "These things happen, Jack. It's nobody's fault, least of all yours." But he wouldn't let her get into it any deeper than that, and it was the only time they had touched even the edges of what they both knew had always been between them. She understood then the hopelessness of it. They walked out of the park and stood self-consciously outside the apartment house that in another hour would be his former address. Dulaney offered coffee but she said no, she'd rather just say good-bye here on the street. She took his hand. "It's all right, Jack. Everything's fine." Just before she walked away she said one last thing to him. "You told me something once and I can't get it out of my mind. A man needs something that's bigger than life, something he'd die for. I've been thinking about that all night." "That sounds like me. Sounds a little silly now, doesn't it?" She shook her head, impatient at his attempt to belittle it. "Good-bye, Jack. I wish only good things for you. I hope you find whatever life holds that makes you feel that way." But he had already found it. He knew it then, in New York; knew it now, sitting alone in a California jail cell. This thought sank into silence. Then, from the darkness beyond the bullpen, he heard Winchell's announcer, recapturing the moment for the makers of Jergens lotion. Chapter Two Today, if she should by some trick materialize in the jail beside him, he could do a better job explaining it to her. It began with the fact that his lifelong pal had seen her first. He would always think of them as a couple, even if the stars weren't working and they never actually married. She knew this, of course, but there are shades of truth. He and Tom had been closer than brothers. Most people would say that didn't matter now. Tom Rooney was at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, but even after his death she was still, in Dulaney's mind, Tom's woman. He would not come slithering upon her like some carpetbagger, wearing the shoes of a summer soldier. Tom would come calling, like Marley in chains. But she was always on his mind as he worked his way across the land, and he'd thought about little else since yesterday noon. It had begun with the clang of the jailhouse door, the deputy waking him from a light sleep. "You got comp'ny, Dulaney. Fella says he's your lawyer." Dulaney didn't have a lawyer. It had to be Kendall: nobody else would know or care where he might possibly be. The deputy opened the cell and motioned Dulaney ahead of him, along a dimly lit hallway to a little room at the end. The window was barred and the room was empty except for a battered wooden table and two rickety chairs. Kendall was sitting in one of the chairs. He didn't look like a lawyer. His clothes, like Dulaney's, were those of a workingman. His shoes were scuffed and coming out at the toes. He looked like what he was, an out-of-work radio actor who had seen better days. They shook hands and Dulaney sat at the table. The deputy stayed in the room, at the edge of earshot. "How'd you find me, Marty?" Kendall smiled sadly. "You weren't at the hotel, so I tried the café. I got there just as the paddy wagon was pulling out." "I'm a little amazed they let you in here." Kendall lowered his voice, cutting his eyes at the deputy. "I keep telling you, Jack, I was a damn good actor in my day. So what happened?" Dulaney smiled. "Just a little mayhem. Resisting arrest. Assault on a police officer. Kid stuff." Kendall stifled the urge to laugh. Dulaney noticed streaks of gray in his mustache and in the curly hair around his ears. He had always thought of Kendall as around forty but now he thought fifty was closer. He told Kendall how the trouble had started. He had gone out to get something to eat. Some sailors and some girls started razzing him about being in the home guard. "I guess I was the only fellow in the place out of uniform. This is nothing new. In the Civil War women would see a man out of uniform and they'd shame him in public." Kendall said nothing. "They probably don't bother you," Dulaney said. "You're a bit older than me. And most of the time I don't let it bother me. But this one gal wouldn't leave it alone. She had the waiter bring me some squash. That's supposed to be the last word in insults. You feed squash to the home guard so the color'll stay bright in their backbones." "So what did you do?" "Hell, I like squash. Figured I might as well eat it." Dulaney leaned forward. "I've been hungry enough times that I'm not about to let good food get chucked just because some silly female wasn't raised right. What happened next is probably in the arrest report." "They say you took on the whole café." "One thing led to another. I finally told those boys they'd end up in the clap shack if they didn't quit messing with whores. I didn't have to say that, but there we were. The sailors had to stand up and they came up short. If those are the best fighting men we've got in this war, we may be in trouble." The deputy cleared his throat. "You boys start winding it up." "It didn't last long. The gendarmes came, four big cops with their billies out." Dulaney touched his head, a tender place the size of a peach. "I wish you hadn't taken on the cops, Jack." "I've got nothing against cops as a rule, but the sight of a billy club gets my back up. I've known too many good people who got their heads busted open just because they were down on their luck. So here I am." "I hear judges get real mean when you start fighting with cops." "The guard says he'll give me six months, unless I've got the money for the fine. That seems to be automatic for a first offense. If I volunteer to go to the work camp he'll cut my time in half." "What are you talking about, a chain gang?" "They don't call it that and they don't chain you together. I get the feeling it's not official and maybe that's why we get to choose. The word comes back to the prisoners through the guards -- if you work, they'll cut your time; if you don't, you go to jail and serve it all." "Man, that stinks. Goddamn judge is probably getting paid off." "Maybe so, but I'm going to take it. I'll use it in a book." Kendall didn't say anything but again Dulaney felt a strain in the room between them. He couldn't put his finger on it, what it was about Kendall that had bothered him from the start. He thought there was a lie somewhere, that some part of Kendall's old life had been omitted or fabricated, and Kendall couldn't lie without turning away. Kendall had been an accomplished radio actor who could live a dozen lies a week on the air, but in real life he was like Dulaney: he couldn't lie to a friend. "What's the matter with you, Marty? Something's been eating you since the day we met." The deputy's voice cut across the room. "You boys about done?" "Give us one more minute," Dulaney said. He leaned over, and softly, so the guard wouldn't hear, said, "Are you in trouble with the law?" "Hell no. I've never even been inside a jail before today. Christ, why would you even think of something like that?" "I've been around enough men on the lam to know another one when I see him. Something's been on your mind, right from the start." Kendall shook his head, a slight movement, barely perceptible. "That doesn't make any sense. How could I be running from the law and still trying to get back into radio?" Dulaney waited but Kendall did not enlighten him. The guard made a time's-up motion with his hands. Dulaney said, "Look, I'd appreciate it if you'd check me out of that hotel. Pick up my papers and my notes. There's a half-finished story I'm working on: make sure you get that. Put it in a box and stash it in the trunk of the car." "Consider it done." "You've been a good friend, Marty. Even if I'm not always sure I know you." "Let's go, boys," the deputy said. But then at the last moment Kendall said, "Just one more thing. Do you know a woman named Holly Carnahan?" Dulaney tensed. "Yes, I know Holly." "There's a letter for you at the hotel. It just came today. It's three months old." "Go back to the hotel right now," Dulaney said. "Open it and read it, then come here tomorrow and tell me what it says." Copyright © 2001 John Dunning. All rights reserved.