cover image THE WAY THE CROW FLIES

THE WAY THE CROW FLIES

Ann-Marie MacDonald, Author . HarperCollins $26.95 (736p) ISBN

A little girl's body, lying in a field, is the first image in this absorbing, psychologically rich second novel by the Canadian author of the bestselling Fall on Your Knees. Then the focus shifts to the appealing McCarthy family. It's 1962, and Jack, a career officer in the RCAF, has just been assigned to the Centralia air force base in Ontario. Jack's wife, Mimi, is a domestic goddess; their children, Mike, 12, and Madeleine, 8, are sweet, loving kids. This is an idyllically happy family, but its fate will be threatened by a secret mission Jack undertakes to watch over a defector from Soviet Russia, who will eventually be smuggled into the U. S. to work on the space program. Jack is an intensely moral, decent guy, so it takes him a while to realize that the man is a former Nazi who commanded slave labor in Peenemünde, where the German rockets were built in an underground cave. Meanwhile, Madeleine is one of several fourth graders who are being molested by their teacher, and one of them winds up dead in that field. McDonald is an expert storyteller who can sustain interest even when the pace is slow, as it is initially, providing an intricate recreation of life on a military base in the 1960s. As the narrative darkens, however, it becomes a chronicle of innocence betrayed. The exquisite irony is that both Madeleine and her father, unbeknownst to each other, are keeping secrets involving the day of the murder. The subtheme is the cynical decision by the guardians of the U.S. space program to shelter Nazi war criminals in order to win the race with the Russians. The finale comes as a thunderclap, rearranging the reader's vision of everything that has gone before. It's a powerful story, delicately layered with complex secrets, told with a masterful command of narrative and a strong moral message. 8-city author tour.(Oct. 1)