by Alisa Smith
St. Martin's Press
Thomas Dunne Books
Mystery & Thrillers
Pub Date 10 Apr 2018
Speakeasy is far removed from the standard WWII era thriller. It is a novel that alternates between past and present and between voices. Lena, the central lead, is a code breaker with a shady past and an unfortunate history of choosing the wrong man. Byron, known as “By God” is a mild accountant seduced into the adventurous high speed life of being a gangster. Both Lena and Byron were drawn into the charismatic web of Bill Bagley, a brilliant but tragically flawed bank robber. Lena thought she escaped, but the threads of the past are long, and as she struggles with the impact of her tasks as codebreaker and the human cost of both success and failure, it begins to look like she has not run far enough or fast enough.
On the whole, Speakeasy is well done. The development of the characters and the changes that take place in them over time is utterly believable, as are the flaws which continue to impact their actions. Also, this is the first novel where I have really felt the human impact of what the codebreakers did - on both sides. While Lena may appear tough, she is brittle, torn between her desire for excitement and recognition and her desire for security.
As the novel switches narratives and timelines, it takes time to tease out the story - which means the reader has to be patient through the slow parts, and there are quite a few of those. It is definitely worth the wait. Alisa Smith’s novel is complex, and eminently human, providing an entirely unique view of an era.
5 / 5
I received a copy of Speakeasy from the publisher and Netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review.
In this literate and action-packed historical thriller, set during World War II, a plucky code-breaker fights to keep a deadly secret as her Bonnie-and-Clyde past threatens to catch up with her.
Thirty-year-old Lena Stillman is living a perfectly respectable life when a shocking newspaper headline calls up her past: it concerns her former lover, charismatic bank robber Bill Bagley. A romantic and charming figure, Lena had tried to forget him by resuming her linguistic studies, which led to her recruitment as a Navy code-breaker intercepting Japanese messages during World War II.
But can Lena keep her own secrets? Threatening notes and the appearance of an old diary that recalls her gangster days are poised to upset her new life.
Whom can she really trust? Is there a spy among the code-breakers? And who is it that wants her dead?
“Alisa Smith’s novel Speakeasy, set in the thirties and forties, is written with great authority. A wonderful read, and very convincing.” —Richard Bausch, author of Something Is Out There and Peace