by James W. Ure
A novel of love, loss and redemption set in the skies and newsrooms of World War II. This work won first prize in the 2011 book length fiction award from the Utah Arts Council. http://arts.utah.gov/funding/competitions/writing.html
Based on fact, the story sprawls in a series of flashbacks through two generations of tough and colorful newspapermen and women. It is set in an era when newspapers influenced the world, big bands were broadcast from big radios, and women found a new freedom brought about by World War II
Part I Synopsis:
“It’s a dagger at the heart of the Mormon Church,” exclaims Denis Cannon, the bad-tempered editor of the Salt Lake Post. Leni Burke, the reporter with a secret past has just presented him with startling evidence. It will impact the Post, setting off a smoldering romance, forcing Cannon to choose between Burke and Deedee Darrah, the haughty, beautiful, independent and also pregnant daughter of the publisher of the paper.
Leni has reason to hide her past; at interludes in the book we reveal that her real name is Helena Vandenberk and that she was raised in a privileged home in New Jersey. As Helena, she could never overcome the shame and shyness of her stuttering, in spite of well-meaning attempts by her father.
While her sister goes to Wellesley, Helena/Leni studies goats at a small agricultural college.
After graduation she travels. In France, as an intern in a fromagerie near St. Dizier, she falls in love with an American pilot flying for the RAF as World War II breaks out. She returns to the states only to have her true love killed over Europe. Out of patriotism, and in his memory, she feels compelled to join the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots.
Because of her stutter, she is nearly washed out of the WASP on three different occasions. She learns to sing her radio procedures. She finally graduates and is one of the few women assigned to ferry the fastest fighter planes of the war.
The first time she roars across the south Texas landscape in a high speed P-51 Mustang, her stutter disappears forever. She has found out who she was meant to be; she is now a fully dimensional woman.
However, she is under great pressure from her father and mother to marry a man they have chosen. Helena/Leni marries out of guilt and realizes she has made a mistake. As she ferries P-51s for the Army, she regrets her marriage. She has felt the excitement and independence of being a WASP; she sees a bleak life as a housewife with Henry, her new husband.
In an act of despair, she abandons the P-51 plane she has been ordered to deliver to the army, parachuting over Mexico’s Baja peninsula after leaving the Mines Field aircraft manufacturing facility in Los Angeles.
Helena makes her way to Tijuana and leaves the border town as Leni Burke, carrying identifying documents easily forged on the black market. She makes her way north, numb and vaguely thinking that she will go to Salt Lake City where Stan, her RAF pilot, was born and raised. She is without a plan.
In Salt Lake City she finds a job as a writer for the Salt Lake Post, promising that she is a fast learner.
Cannon, the city editor, is relentless in his criticism of her early work, and she comes to hate him—until an accident places him under her care. Cannon is irascible and set in his ways; Leni combative and caustic. Slowly they develop detente, then respect, and finally, they fall in love.
Leni develops a book review that has great implications for Utah and the Mormons. Her review is the “dagger” of 1945 rips at Mormonism to this day. That dagger is a book, No Man Knows My History, The Life of Joseph Smith, by Fawn M. Brodie. It was published on Nov. 25, 1945, by Alfred A. Knopf, and is still in print.
Denis begs Leni to marry him. She refuses, saying her past prevents it. Cannon demands to know why. She is evasive.
Finally, under pressure from Denis Cannon, Leni agrees to reveal her past. To do this she asks him to take an airplane ride with him. Renting a small Argus, they go flying. They vow love for one another.
Denis and Leni do not return. A search lasting several days turns up nothing.
Part II Synopsis
Deedee Darrah, the spurned lover of the missing Denis Cannon, has married and divorced Fielding Holbrook after bearing a child, Billy. Fielding is the son of Mormon Apostle B. LaVar Holbrook, a McCarthy-like voice of anti-communism and a critic of the state’s schools.
On the sudden death of her father, Deedee takes over the publishing of the Post and brings in war hero Dev Call as its new executive editor. Known only to the reader, Dev was married to Athena Davilla, one of Leni’s WASP killed in a plane crash in Texas. He has a daughter by Athena whose name is Stella.
Meanwhile, every year or two, the newspaper requests that the Utah Aeronautics Commission conduct another search for the missing Leni and Cannon.
The sexual tension builds between Deedee and Dev as they struggle to keep the Post as it loses money in a newspaper war with the Mormon-owned Zion Evening News. Dev will only confess to desiring a Pulitzer prize, not a publisher.
Apostle Holbrook, presenting himself as an emissary of the Mormon church, attempts to buy the Post. He is rejected. Instead, Dev and Deedee work around Holbrook to make a deal with the president of the Mormon church: they create a joint operating agreement that leads to the formation of Newspaper Services Corporation, which will handle advertising, circulation and production of both papers.
Two airliners collide over Grand Canyon, the worst air accident in history. The Post sends its best reporters and photographers to cover it and get a jump even on the wire services.
Meanwhile, B. LaVar Holbrook, in the absence of his son who is in Korea, regularly picks up his grandson Billy. These visits seem to leave the child agitated and unhappy, but Mormon courts decide in favor of the grandparents’ visitation.
Holbrook announces his candidacy for the Utah Legislature. Deedee not only opposes Holbrook editorially and decides to run for State School Board, opposing her former father-in-law’s right wing ideas, including the statement that “too many kids go to college.”
A summer Sunday: police knock on the door. B. LaVar Holbrook has been found parked by the Jordan River molesting his grandson, Billy. Because he is a high Mormon official, the incident will be swept under the rug.
However, Deedee makes it public through a civil suit, which is reported in the Post. As a result, Deedee is shot by Holbrook as she is entering the Post building. Holbrook takes his own life. Deedee is paralyzed forever.
Only now can Dev begin to express his love for Deedee. He takes Deedee and Billy and his own daughter, Stella, to the Call Ranch where Deedee begins to heal, and where Dev and Deedee learn that Deedee is not handicapped in the love-making department.
One morning the city room of the Post is electrified to learn the wreckage of a small plane has been spotted on a ridge in the Uinta Mountains. Dev agrees to join the search party. Deedee anxiously awaits his return. He reports it was the plane rented by Leni and Denis, but they found no human remains. The wreck is now eight years old, but it still shrouded in the mystery of what happened to its occupants.
Deedee and Dev are in bed. She tells him his greatest desire has been fulfilled: the Post won a Pulitzer for the Grand Canyon air crash. He says his greatest desire is Deedee, lying in his arms.