SEARCHING FOR JOHNNY
British-born Gibbins's U.S. debut is an imaginative tale of an impossible love, a stylish fantasy that can be compared favorably to the work of Jack Finney. Amanda, a British producer of a movie about WWII American fliers at a former bomber base in Yorkshire, walks onto the tarmac one evening and meets an American pilot she assumes is an actor. He is not: his name is Johnny, he's a captain from the U.S. Eighth Air Force and he died in 1944. Having somehow traversed time, Amanda continues to do so. She and Johnny meet again, go on outings together and eventually fall in love. But when production of the overbudget movie is halted, Johnny disappears forever. Obsessed with her strange experience, Amanda begins a quest for truth and justice. She tracks down the surviving members of Johnny's bomber crew and, in an odyssey across America, interviews these old men in hopes of learning the truth about Johnny's life and death. As each crew member recounts his own memories, in a leisurely and sometimes confusing fashion, Amanda comes to believe that Johnny was murdered, that his death was the focus of a major coverup. The truth is doled out in bits and pieces, and the fine line between withholding information for purposes of suspense and authorial deceit comes perilously close to being crossed. Gibbons does a fine job of writing from the female point of view, though a secondary theme—the decline of the pioneering American spirit—is less successful, and many of the descriptions of America seem to come from travel brochures. (Apr. 18)
Forecast:Gibbins received solid reviews in the U.K. for President Limey and Sudden Death. Handselling to readers with an interest in WWI—as well in unsentimental investigations into the "ineffable mysteries" of memory and the human heart—could boost modest sales.