Today, we have an excerpt from December ’41, the new historical thriller from William Martin. Perhaps best known for his Peter Fallon mystery series (Back Bay, etc.), in his latest novel he turns his pen towards World War II and the hunt for an assassin hoping to turn the tide of the war. Really looking forward to reading this. Check out the synopsis:
A WWII thriller as intense as The Day of the Jackal and as gripping as The Eye of the Needle. In December ’41, Martin takes us on the ultimate manhunt, a desperate chase from Los Angeles to Washington, D. C., in the first weeks of the Second World War.
On the day after Pearl Harbor, shocked Americans gather around their radios to hear Franklin Roosevelt declare war. In Los Angeles, a German agent named Martin Browning is planning to kill FDR on the night he lights the National Christmas Tree. Who will stop him? Relentless FBI Agent Frank Carter? Kevin Cusack, a Hollywood script reader who also spies on the German Bund of Los Angeles, and becomes a suspect himself? Or Vivian Hopewell, the aspiring actress who signs on to play Martin Browning’s wife and cannot help but fall in love with him?
The clock is ticking. The tracks are laid. The train of narrow escapes, mistaken identities, and shocking deaths is right on schedule. It’s a thrilling ride that will sweep you from the back lots of Hollywood to the speeding Super Chief to that solemn Christmas Eve, when twenty thousand people gather on the South Lawn of the White House and the lives of Franklin Roosevelt and his surprise guest, Winston Churchill, hang in the balance.
Now, read on for an excerpt from the novel…
DECEMBER 8, 1941
It was the largest radio audience in history.
On the cold coast of Maine, they were listening. Down on Wall Street, trading stopped so they could listen. On assembly lines in Detroit, they were taking long lunches so the autoworkers could listen. In Chicago, the butchers stopped slaughtering in the stockyards to listen. In Kansas and Nebraska and Iowa, where they grew corn and wheat enough to feed the world, now that the rains had returned and the dust had stopped blowing, the farmers were listening there, too.
In all the places where the muscle and sinew of America bound one state or town or family to another, they were listening for the warm baritone and patrician inflections that somehow never sounded too upper-crusty coming out of the radio…
… because America had awakened that morning to the cold reality of war, war in every time zone, war encircling the earth, war once more as the original human fact.
In Hawaii, U.S. Navy battleships burned beneath great funerary clouds of black oil smoke. In the far Pacific, Japanese troops attacked along every line of latitude and longitude. In swirling blizzards of blood and snow, Russians and Germans slaughtered each other before Moscow. Across Europe, jackboots echoed and resistance guttered, while U-boats stalked freighters on the roiling
gray Atlantic. But Americans were listening because Franklin Roosevelt was about to make sense of it all.
In Washington, the CBS radio announcer was describing the packed House chamber, the tense atmosphere… when suddenly his voice rose: “Now, ladies and gentlemen, the president is appearing and moving toward the podium.”
And from out of deep-bass consoles and tinny tabletop radios in every corner of the country, a roar exploded, something between a cheer and an angry shout, the harsh, hard, ferocious cry of Americans lifting themselves from shock and drawing strength from the president who’d lifted himself from a wheelchair and by remarkable force of will was appearing upright before them.
When the roar receded, the Speaker announced, “Senators and Representatives, I have the distinguished honor of presenting the president of the United States.”
More cheers and shouts, then Franklin Roosevelt’s voice rang out, firm, confident, indignant: “Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan….”
In the West, radio stations had gone off the air the night before so that Japanese bombers couldn’t home in on the broadcasts.
But now, Roosevelt’s voice rolled across deserts, up and over mountain ranges, and down into the warm green dream of Southern California, down along boulevards laid like gridwork atop lettuce fields and orange groves, down onto long, straight, relentless thoroughfares that ended where scrub-covered hillsides leaped up to define and divide the expanse of Los Angeles, down into offices and coffee shops and cars where people were listening, unaware that as Roosevelt spoke, a Nazi assassin was shooting at targets in a local canyon and planning the most daring act of the age, unaware also that before it was over, he would draw them all into his dark orbit.
Also on CR: Interview with William Martin (2018)