Title: Whistling in the Dark
Author: Tamara Allen
Publisher: Lethe Press
Characters: Sutton Albright, Jack Bailey
POV: 3rd person
Setting: New York City, 1919
Sub-Genre: Historical Romance
Cover Rating: 4
New York City, 1919. His career as a concert pianist ended by a war injury, Sutton Albright returns to college, only to be expelled after a scandalous affair with a teacher. Unable to face his family, Sutton heads to Manhattan with no plans and little money in his pocket but with a desire to call his life his own. Jack Bailey lost his parents to influenza and now hopes to save the family novelty shop by advertising on the radio, a medium barely more than a novelty, itself. His nights are spent in a careless and debauched romp through the gayer sections of Manhattan. When these two men cross paths, despite a world of differences separating them, their attraction cannot be denied. Sutton finds himself drawn to the piano, playing for Jack. But can his music heal them both, or will sudden prosperity jeopardize their chance at love?
In the waning months of 1918, the Spanish influenza pandemic had erupted the world over just as World War I was breathing its final gasps. By the time the pandemic’s devastating effects had been fully realized, tens of millions of people worldwide had died in what is now known as one of the greatest medical catastrophes in the history of mankind.
Some 675,000 Americans succumbed to the virus, more than five times the number of American servicemen and civilians killed during the war itself. It is a telling fact of the flu’s catastrophic effects that more US soldiers died of the virus and its related complications than had fallen to enemy fire. Many servicemen returned home, some suffering both physical and emotional injuries, only to find their families had been decimated by the disease. With the average age of American soldiers falling somewhere around twenty-five, more than a few teenage boys and young men came home to find one or both parents, as well as their siblings, had died while they were overseas.
Jack Bailey served in the Signal Corps in the war to end all wars, responsible for maintaining radio antennae and phone lines for the American troops, left exposed and vulnerable to enemy fire as he patched and repaired the aerials and cables damaged by the opposition troops in an effort to cripple communication. It’s in the performance of his duties that Jack is wounded and discharged, only to return home to find that the flu has dismantled his family.
Though Jack’s physical injuries have healed, the invisible scars, the sort which can only come from the horrors of witnessing friends and fellow soldiers die before one’s eyes, continue to haunt him, threatening his security, his health, and perhaps even his sanity. His methods of coping with the trauma and nightmares aren’t necessarily conducive to recovery; rather, more often than would be considered healthy, Jack finds himself on the wrong side of a jail cell for his behavior.
Which is precisely where he lays eyes on Sutton Albright for the first time, as Sutton finds himself at the wrong end of a proposition that lands him in jail for indecent behavior.
Sutton is a son of wealth and privilege, back on US soil after his own fearful stint in France, trying to make his way in New York City after a controversial incident at university leads to a failed romance and, ultimately, his expulsion. Unable to face going back to Kansas and his family, Sutton is determined to become his own man in a city with few opportunities to make a decent living. Resigned to spending his nights in mouse infested hotels, down to his last few dollars and low on hope, Sutton wanders into a diner, a decision that will serve to change his life forever.
Through the power of music and the fledgling medium of radio broadcasting, Jack and Sutton each find the will and the hope to fulfill their dreams, while at the same time forming a bond that will prove to be the best medicine for the battle scars that afflict them both. The two men discover that though the war has ended, their fight is far from over, a fight for healing, for redemption, and for the right to love.
Surrounded by a small group of friends, Jack and Sutton find that strength comes in the numbers of those who love and support them unconditionally. Even in the face of his family’s potential rejection, Sutton finds the mere prospect of happily ever after a far more compelling force than returning to a life that could not possibly fulfill him. Jack’s love for Sutton is ”a promise that, even when the world was falling down around him, would stay kept. But without saying a word, he knew that there would be comfort when he couldn’t sleep tonight. And tomorrow and the day after, there would be a home to go to, even if it was no more than a pair of arms around him and a head tucked close to his in the darkness.”
Whistling in the Dark is an absolute treasure for fans of historical fiction. Tamara Allen has presented a novel which, settled on the very eve of prohibition, rings pitch perfectly—the dialogue, the language, the imagery all serve to draw the reader into the story and into a time when ragtime and jazz were, to some, not considered acceptable forms of music, let alone an acceptable form of entertainment.
The story is set in a time when a man, desperate to keep his parents’ legacy afloat and keep a dream alive, might find himself borrowing money from the only source available to him—a loan that would come with a dangerous penalty if not paid on demand.
This is a story that is peopled with characters so entirely vibrant and genuinely sympathetic that it’s impossible not to relate to them in a significant way, a way in which I found myself entirely consumed by their trials and triumphs for the entirety of the book.
Whistling in the Dark is, in the simplest terms, outstanding fiction. Or, to borrow an adjective from Jack’s own repertoire—it’s crackerjack.
Reviewed By: Lisa