Joyce St. Anthony: Death on a Deadline

It’s 1942, and Irene Ingram is managing The Progress Herald while her Dad is covering the front lines.  She’s in tiny Progress, Pennsylvania, and everyone in town is in a state of excitement at the news that Clark Gable will possibly be attending the war bond rally at their county fair.  The sensible and skeptical Irene is not so sure about it, though, and the book starts with her trying to get to the truth of the Clark Gable rumor.

This is a bit of a different take on a WWII mystery.  Many of the books are set in Europe, where the war was a daily and deadly occurrence.  However, the war reached its fingers everywhere, and even tiny Progress feels the impact.  Sweethearts, brothers and husbands are away; there’s shortages of almost everything; women are working in places they hadn’t before, like the newspaper.  St. Anthony brings the war home with her chapter epigraphs in the form of newspaper headlines, detailing the sinking of ships and lives lost all over the globe, and some even close to home.  The U.S. was not inviolable, as Pearl Harbor proved.

This gives a nice sense of tension to the story – as does the fact that the fairly young Irene must prove herself to the old hands in the newsroom, even though she’s in charge.  As editor of the local paper, she also has extra access to things like police investigations.  This is of course a mystery, and St. Anthony introduces several characters who are part of the rally.

During WWII Hollywood stars (even of the caliber of Clark Gable) made appearances around the country with the goal of selling war bonds.  The group that comes to Progress is of a more second rank caliber but includes a well known Hollywood gossip columnist as well as a man who is starting to make a name for himself, but who grew up in Progress.  His looks have changed (improved) so much that no one really recognizes him.  There’s also Angel, the purveyor of the Gable rumor, whose sister, Ava, owns the local beauty salon.  Her husband, Freddie, turns up looking for her, complicating matters as his mistress is part of the travelling rally group.

There’s enough back biting and tension there to provide ample territory for a murder, and indeed, on the first day of the fair, Freddie turns up dead, discovered, naturally, by our heroine, Irene.  She’s engaged to the police chief’s son and he gives her quite a bit of leeway though he continually tells her to step back.

Irene unravels the reason for Freddie’s murder which mostly results in a growth of the suspect pool – pretty much everyone who knew him hated him.  As the book unfolds, you probably will too.  This is a light novel in tone though it does not take the subject matter lightly, which is a nice balance, and the characters are well drawn and fully realized.  Irene especially is a nice calm-center-of-the-storm type heroine, and she’s looking forward to the war ending and continuing her work.  I imagine that will create conflict for another novel down the line.  This was a pleasant, engaging read.