Strangers in the Night
by Katherine Deauxville, Amanda Harte & Eugenia Riley
(Leisure, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4749-7
****
I have long wondered when authors, editors and publishers would discover that the era surrounding World War II is just as romantic (and just as distant and different) as say that of the ever-popular Peninsular War. Dorothy Garlock pioneered using this period as a setting for romance with last year’s fine After the Parade. When I heard that Leisure had put together an anthology with three novellas set during the World War II era, I immediately set out to find it. While I found the stories a bit uneven, I certainly did appreciate the authors recreation of a period of American history that I personally find fascinating.

My favorite tale was Amanda Harte’s "Strangers in the Night," which captured the sometimes forgotten problems that World War II faced in coming to terms with the horrors they had experienced. Michael Kingsley, heir to the Kingsley shoe company, is one such returned veteran. Still haunted by the death and destruction he faced, unable to shake off the nightmares, finding both his parents and his now ex-fiancee less than understanding, Michael takes off across the country and ends up Canela, “The Friendliest Little Town in East Texas.” When he walks into the Canela Cafe, he discovers a lovely young woman and hears “Night and Day” on the jukebox. And, to his own surprise, he asks her to dance. To Abbie Chapman’s surprise, she accepts.

Like all other Americans, Abbie’s life had been transformed by the war. She had suffered two grievous losses; both her brother and her fiancé had been killed in the fighting. In addition to her job as secretary to the town’s primary lawyers, Abbie has retained her brother’s business of servicing the town’s jukeboxes. She is convinced that she will never marry, that she will never fall in love again. Then, she meets “Mike King.”

"Strangers in the Night" is a sweet story of two people who are instantly attracted to each other, who get to know each other, who fall in love, and who find healing. It provides a nice portrait of small town life in a very different time. I enjoyed it very much.

I also liked Katherine Deauxville’s "All of Nothing at All," which couldn’t have been more different in setting and tone. The author has set her story in New York’s famous Stage Door Canteen, where Broadway stars and society girls provided coke and food and conversation and dancing to servicemen who have a leave before shipping out to the fighting. Gia Cantania is not the typical hostess. Although she is an aspiring singer and dancer, she is in fact an Italian girl from the Bronx who got the position at the Canteen by winning a “Miss New York Subway” contest. Gia has a problem; one of the visitors clearly has a thing for her, but the Canteen rules forbid any fraternization outside of its walls. “Eric the Menace” won’t leave her alone.

The social historian in me can’t help but note how Deauxville makes use of one of the consequences of World War II: the meeting and mixing of people from different parts of the country and different social classes. Eric Rassmussen is the son of privilege from Minneapolis; Gia is a working class Italian from New York. It is the war that brings them together so that they can fall in love. There are certain plot devices relating to Gia’s ambition that allow the relationship to develop, but what is particularly entertaining is Eric’s introduction to a boisterous Italian family and their then unfamiliar food, rspecially a strange tomato pie called pizza. By making Eric a hero of the Battle of Midway, Deauxville provides a feel for the dangers and uncertainties that so many faced during World War II. All in all, "All or Nothing at All" is a nicely done tale.

My least favorite novella was Eugenia Riley’s "Night and Day". Riley sets her story in wide open Galveston, Texas right after the war. She undoubtedly gets the setting right, but while the two other novellas describe situations which were not uncommon (except, of course, the romance requirement that the hero be rich), Riley’s story depends on melodrama.

Mandy Maitland had become engaged to Lesley Leighton before he went off to fight in Europe. Lesley didn’t seem to mind that she was the daughter of a poor school teacher while his parents were Texas aristocrats. Now Mandy is waiting in the Oleander Ballroom to welcome Lesley home and to tell him that they can not marry. But Lesley doesn’t arrive; instead his best buddy from the army appears to tell Mandy that her fiance had been killed in a freak accident after the fighting was over.

Vic Fontana had shared Mandy’s letters to Lesley for years. He is more than half in love with her himself. And he soon realizes that Mandy is in some kind of trouble. Indeed, she is being blackmailed by “Slimy Sal,” one of the hoods who controls Galveston’s gambling and other illegal activities. So it’s Vic to the rescue. He promised Lesley he’d take care of Mandy and he does.

Despite Riley’s accurate depiction of 1946 Galveston where anything goes, "Night and Day" didn’t work quite as well at recapturing the mood of the era as the other stories. Nor did the romance seem as realistic. That Mandy would fall into Vic’s arms only days after discovering that her fiancé is dead just didn’t seem right.

I am recommending this book for a couple of reasons. First, I am delighted with the setting and secondly, I enjoyed two of the three stories quite a bit. Readers who are looking for something a bit different will enjoy Strangers in the Night. May it be the beginning of a trend.

--Jean Mason


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