A Wilmington widow’s secret mission in World War II Washington

It is 1942. German spies are operating at the New York ports. Sicilian dockworkers, maybe connected to the Mafia, want to help the USA.  Louise Pearlie, a young widow from Wilmington, becomes the contact person and more.
Louise had moved to Washington and gotten a low level clerk’s job at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), America’s spy agency. Now she finds herself in the middle of a dangerous and complicated game of intrigue.

It is all part of Raleigh mystery writer Sarah Shaber’s new book, “Louise’s Gamble,” that features the young widow from Wilmington who works for the OSS.

Shaber will be the guest on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch this weekend (Friday at 9:30 p.m and Sunday at 5 p.m.).

Why does the Mafia want to help the USA drive the Axis forces out of Sicily? They hate Mussolini and his German allies because Mussolini shut down the Sicilian Mafia when he took charge of Italy.

Members of prominent Sicilian families living in the U.S. also want to help. They make Louise their contact person with the OSS. The result, as described in “Louise’s Gamble,” is a complicated, satisfying mystery. Still much of the pleasure it gives its readers comes from a time-travel experience to the Washington of 70 years ago.

As Shaber explained to me recently, the role of Louise Pearlie as a “government girl” in 1942 is light years different from what a young working woman would experience today. Back then, Shaber said, single women were treated like adult children, as if they were in no position to make important decisions for themselves. Living in an apartment would have been almost out of the question for most single women. They would have to live “at home” with parents, or, like Louise, in a boarding house.

Having a boyfriend back then was complicated. Louise, according to Shaber, “has chemistry” and was “interested in romance.” She is tempted to have an affair with Joe, a Czech refugee who lives in the same boarding house.

But everybody is watching. There is no privacy.

Also, an affair could cause problems for her at work. There might be a morals clause in her contract. A sexual relationship with a foreigner might subject her to blackmail and put her in a position to be compromised by enemy intelligence.

“Louise’s Gamble” is the second book about Louise Pearlie. The first, “Louise’s War,” brought Pearlie from Wilmington to Washington and her job at the OSS.

Currently, Shaber is at work on the third in the series.  She explained that there are some advantages for her now that the main characters are already developed and the scene is established. At this point, she can concentrate on the plot, the action, and what Shaber calls  “the story arc.”

She uses a storyboard to keep track of plot ideas, scenes, and clues. All the while, she says, she is listening to her characters. “They take me along,” she says. “They take off on their own.”
She asserts that they really do talk to her.

“So,” I asked, “what has Louise told you recently?”

Shaber laughed. “She told me she really wants to have a fling with Joe.”

We will have to wait a few months for the third book in the series to find out if Louise has persuaded Shaber to let her have that affair.

In the meantime don’t miss the chance to watch Shaber talk more about “Louise’s Gamble” this weekend on Bookwatch.


Make room at the top of your book pile!

The summer is fast coming to an end. And I bet there is a stack of books by your bed or somewhere in your house, ones that you meant to read this summer. But there were just too many other things you had to do.

Watch out!

Here comes another batch of new North Carolina books, some of which belong at the top of your book pile.

First a mystery from one of North Carolina’s most admired writers, Raleigh’s Sarah Shaber, who previously edited UNC Press’s  “Tar Heel Dead,” a collection of mystery or detective stories by some of our best writers.

Shaber’s new book, “Louise’s Gamble” continues the story begun in an earlier book, “Louise’s War.” Both books feature Louise Pearlie, a Wilmington widow who moves to Washington during World War II and finds a job in the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA of the times.

It is 1942. German spies are operating at the New York ports. Sicilian dockworkers, maybe connected to the Mafia want to help, want to help the USA. Louise becomes the contact person and more.

More than a complicated, satisfying mystery, “Louise’s Gamble” takes its readers on delightful trip back to the Washington of 70 years ago, a time that some of us can almost remember. 

(Shaber will be the guest on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch on Friday, August 24, at 9:30 pm and Sunday, August 26, at 5 p.m.)
We may have our differences about immigration policy but nobody wants to send Latino food back home.  Something else is happening as peoples from the various countries of South and Central America introduce us to their delicious dishes. We are learning from them and they are learning from us. The result is a blending of the traditions and a whole new and changing regional menu, which is described in charming detail by Sandra Gutierrez, author of “The New Southern-Latino Table: Recipes That Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America and the American South.” (August 31, September 2)

Say Bob Garner’s name and then see if you can say “barbecue” without your mouth all watering and wanting to say, “This is to die for.” His new book, “Bob Garner’s Book of Barbecue: North Carolina’s Favorite Food” is a great compilation of our state’s barbecue traditions, legends, and real history. It includes a list with background information about more than a hundred of the state’s best barbecue restaurants. Every North Carolinian who is a self-identified barbecue expert should buy a copy of this book. If they do, it will sell millions of copies. (Sept. 7- only)

In her new novel aimed especially at young people and parents, “Out of My Mind,” award-winning author Sharon Draper introduces us to Melody, an 11-year-old girl who cannot speak. She is so afflicted with Cerebral Palsy that she can hardly move. Even though she is the smartest person in her school, she is treated as though she has no intellectual potential. Then a series of events and important help from others give Melody the opportunity to show her stuff and teach us lessons about the dangers of underrating the potential of those with physical challenges. (Sept. 14- only)

Wilmington author Nancy Collins is widely known as an award-winning author of vampire and fantasy books.  Her new book goes in a different direction. “Left Hand Magic,” takes the action to a futuristic or mythical New York City where near-human species called Kymera try to find ways to overcome the discrimination from their human neighbors. The Kymera have six fingers on each hand and they have magical powers that give them help in protecting their community from human interlopers. (Sept. 21, 23)