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.