Romantic suspense amid the chaos of a world at war. The year is 1940. As England braces for invasion and the German army overruns Europe, two American sisters in Paris risk their lives to save a downed British airman from Nazi arrest. Linda Rossiter and Eleanor Masson soon realize the price they may pay when they read this ominous public notice: "All persons harbouring English soldiers must deliver same to the nearest Kommandantur not later than 20 October 1940. Those persons who continue to harbour Englishmen after this date without having notified the authorities will be shot." On Christmas Eve, the Gestapo sets a trap, and death is only a step behind the two American women.
I received an ARC of Carolyn Hart's Escape From Paris from Seventh Street Books in exchange for my honest review. Admittedly, I was initially intrigued by the setting but was slightly turned off by the "romantic suspense" reference (just a personal matter of taste; I'm not a huge romance fan.) Having now read the novel, I can't say whether fans of romantic suspense would be disappointed. But I can say with confidence that I was more than a little pleasantly surprised.
The romantic aspect is certainly there, but in my opinion, it is a background element. In the foreground is the precarious position of two American women in Nazi-Occupied Paris. Through Linda Rossiter and Eleanor Masson, Hart brings to life the faces of World War II that rarely receive the same attention as those of persecuted Jews. Instead, we see the plights of the French, English and American non-Jews who are caught in the middle of the Nazi agenda. Unlike their Jewish friends and neighbors, these Parisians are given the choice to simply abide by the laws and restrictions imposed upon them by the Nazis and wait for a resolution to the conflict. This would certainly be their safest option, but their personal outrages and senses of moral obligation are powerful enough to overrule their fears. As the sisters increasingly entangle themselves into the Resistance movement against the Nazi regime, they find their own lives in even greater danger than those the Nazis are fighting to snuff out.
In addition to a collection of well-rounded characters, Hart reveals a Paris that sharply contrasts with the romantic City of Lights. The Paris of 1940 is a chilling landscape of ubiquitous swastikas and goose-stepping soldiers. Her citizens are poverty-stricken, oppressed and terrified. As Hart weaves the tale of the American sisters, she effectively incorporates very specific historical examples to bring this frightning alternate city to life.
Escape From Paris was originally released as a much shorter novel. In order to publish this work, Hart was required to cut out 40,000 words. With its re-release in June, we will see it for the first time as it was originally intended. As a lucky ARC reader in advance of publication, I can't imagine this novel so truncated, and am glad that the extended version was my first introduction to Carolyn Hart. Every single one of those 40,000 words, as well as the other 55,000, contributed to building the tension. I literally had knots in my stomach. This novel has made me a Carolyn Hart fan.