World-renowned journalist G.G. Gilman does her best not to think of the past. But one day she gets a letter--sent from the small Oklahoma town where she grew up--that brings it all back. Memories of people she had once known and loved dearly--and of the sultry summer when her life changed forever.
Hart has created a fabulous two-in-one: an excellent mystery and the poignant memoirs of her heroine, Gretchen Grace Gilman. A letter received by the now elderly newshound extraordinaire returns her physically, mentally and emotionally to her past and to her hometown in northeastern Oklahoma. As the pages of the letter unfold, so does the story of Gretchen's summer of 1944. With every able-bodied male involved in the war effort, Gazette editor Walt Dennis agrees to give 13-year-old Gretchen a shot as a newspaper reporter. But the sleepy town is soon rocked by the murder of Faye Tatum, an artist and the mom of Gretchen's friend and neighbor Barb. To make matters worse, the prime suspect is Barb's dad, Clyde, home on leave but nowhere to be found after the murder. Political ambitions spur the county attorney and the sheriff to track down Clyde and arrest him, while less hasty Chief Fraser is more interested in first sorting through all the facts. The obviously well-researched history draws the reader into this atypical whodunit. Characters are Steinbeck vivid, as is the sense of time and place. Hart masterfully portrays an American small town during WWII.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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October 04, 2004
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Excerpt from Letter From Home by Carolyn Hart
THE RUSTED IRON gate sagged from the stone pillar. A winter-brown vine clung to the stones. Pale March sunlight filtered through the bare branches of sycamores and oaks, throwing thin black shadows as distinct as stylized brushwork in a Japanese painting. My cane poked through a mound of tawny leaves, some wizened and wrinkled as old faces, some damp and soggy, smelling of must and rot and decay. The rutted road looked much narrower than I remembered. When I'd last been in the cemetery, most of the headstones, even those dating back to Indian Territory days, had stood straight. Now many were tilted and some had tumbled to the ground, half hidden by leaves. Remnants of a late snow spangled shaded spots.
I walked slowly, stabbing my cane at the uneven ground. Nothing looked familiar. Our graves were surely this way.... Oh, of course. The weeping willow was gone. I'd always marked our family plot by a huge willow, its dangling fronds shiny green in summer, bare and brown in winter. A stump leaned crookedly near the plot.
I paused to rest for a moment. The sharp wind rustled the bare branches of the sycamores and oaks. I shivered, grateful for the warmth of my cashmere coat and leather gloves. I plunged my left hand into a pocket of my coat. My gloved fingers closed around the letter. The name on the return address had not been familiar, but I had recognized the postmark. My first thought when I received the square cream envelope had been as instinctive as breathing: Why, it's a letter from home. Second came a quiver of utter surprise. Home? I'd not been back to the little town in northeastern Oklahoma since I was a girl. Home ...
When I opened the envelope and lifted out three pages-cheap paper with violently colored roses twining down one side, the writing a dense, almost indecipherable scrawl-I almost threw the sheets away unread. The salutation stopped me: Dear Gretchen. No one had called me Gretchen for well over a half century. Gretchen ... Across a span of time, I remembered a girl, dark-haired, blue-eyed, slim and eager, who seemed quite separate and distinct from the old woman walking determinedly toward the graves.
I remembered that long-ago girl....
GRETCHEN CLUTCHED THE folded sheaf of yellow copy paper and a thick dark-leaded pencil, sharp enough for writing but the point too blunt to break. That was just how Mr. Dennis did it when he covered the city council. Her first day at the Gazette, he'd waggled a thick handful of copy paper. "This is all you need, Gretchen. Take some paper and a couple of pencils, listen hard, make notes you can read, write your story fast."
It still seemed strange to walk toward Victory Caf� and not hurry inside, welcoming the familiar smells of cinnamon rolls and coffee and bacon. Victory Caf�-she was almost used to the name now. It used to be Pfizer Caf� but after Pearl Harbor when people began to talk about Nazis and Krauts as well as the Japs, Grandmother hired Elwyn Haskins to paint a new name in bright red and blue against a white background: Victory Caf� There was a small American flag near the cash register and the mirror behind the counter held pictures of men in the service. Anyone could bring a photo and Grandmother would tape it up. Now people were beginning to believe in victory, especially since the invasion, though it seemed that the convoys rolling through on Highway 66 were longer than ever and the trains clacking t wasn't dusty that May afternoon. The sky glittered a sharp, bright, clear blue and she'd held tight to her hat as the Oklahoma wind gusted, bending the trees, skittering trash down the street. When she got to the Gazette office, she'd stared at the door and been so scared she'd almost turned and run away. Could she do it? She was editor of the Wolf Cry, the junior high newspaper. Mrs. Jacobs liked her stories, had given her bylines all this past year. One story, the one about Millard, Mrs. Jacobs sent in to the interscholastic contest. When Gretchen won first prize, she'd felt funny, happy, and sad at the same time.