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by Carolyn Hart
Seventh Street Books, June 2013
315 pages
ISBN: 1616147938

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

n 1982, novelist Carolyn Hart's World War II novel ESCAPE FROM PARIS was accepted for publication—with the stipulation that she cut forty thousand words. Now, with Carolyn Hart a veteran author of fifty books (she writes the Death on Demand series of cozies, among others), Prometheus' Seventh Street imprint has brought out a new edition with those forty-thousand words restored, and I am glad for the restoration. By 1982, Hart had been writing for close to twenty years and had gained the mastery that has served her so well for so long. In this 2013 reprint, I find those extra forty thousand words a blessing, not a curse.

ESCAPE FROM PARIS is not a murder mystery, Hart's chosen genre of expression. However, in Occupied Paris, where ESCAPE is set, murder is all too common, and the mystery was whether those committed to liberté, égalité, and fraternité could continue to enjoy their freedom. American sisters Eleanor Masson, wife of a French citizen, and Linda Rossiter find their ordinary small lives transformed by the events of 1940. One of Hart's subjects, aside from the givens of history, is how ordinary people confront extraordinary events and transform themselves for good or ill. It is Hart's artistry that such transformations are not easy. Fear hounds resolution; sudden turns of events ask more, then more, than the good thought they had to give.

The novel includes a cast large enough to enable readers to participate in many of what have by now become the war's set-pieces: Helmuth Knocken, chief of Geheime Staatspolitzei in Paris, harbors memories of his humiliation at the hands of the English at the conclusion of the first world war; he relishes torture, using Parisians' fears for their families to extract information he seeks with exquisite precision. Erich Krause, serving under Knocken and charged with stopping the sheltering of RAF officers who have been shot down over France, takes his job quite seriously, planting fake RAF officers near the Spanish border crossing, and reeling in the gullible. Jonathan Harris, the injured RAF officer shot down over France, placed in French hay wagons during the harvest, right under German noses, follows the French version of the underground railroad to Paris, where Eleanor and Linda operate one of the waystations to safety. Injured Englishman Michael Evans, due to be shipped to The Citadel POW camp, where a probable death or worse might be his fate, becomes Eleanor and Linda's first rescue, the ordinary soldier who converts the ordinary sisters to extraordinary action. Father Laurent, priest at Church of the Good Shepherd, paints the sights of Paris en pleine aire; the owner of the art gallery who shows his work and his patrons are in fact people facilitating escape to Spain and the priest himself organizes the Paris leg of the escape route. Yvette Bizien, the Vichy sympathizer, looks out her window near Eleanor and Linda's apartment, has read notices offering reward for the capture of the enemies of the Vichy government, and wonders why the sisters make so many trips under the cover of darkness, carrying small packages. Mme Leclerc, wealthy and elderly widow, funds escaping patriots; Franz, a Jewish boy, hid in terror while his parents and siblings were caught in the Nazis' deadly dragnet and is left an orphan.

ESCAPE FROM PARIS is a nice round novel, well put-together, inclusive enough of French customs and scenes that readers find themselves in a world where real patriots and truly evil enemies contest for dominance. Vichy France is a place which Hart has re-created many times in her cozies, a world of good and evil, where evil is powerful and real, but where good prevails, not because no one dies, but because someone looks unblinkingly at what is wrong and attempts to put things right.

§ Cathy Downs, Professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, is a longtime devotee of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, July 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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