cover image The War Begins in Paris

The War Begins in Paris

Theodore Wheeler. Little, Brown, $29 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-56367-3

Wheeler (In Our Other Lives) delivers an evocative and well-crafted story of two American journalists on a potentially fatal collision course in WWII Europe. Jane Anderson, “famous for her audacity, her beauty, her appetite for headlines,” elicits admiration and resentment from her peers. Unlike the graceful and charismatic Anderson, glum Marthe Hess can only move “like a stork stuck in mud,” due to a childhood injury. Despite their differences, the women bond when they meet in Paris in 1938. Hess is flattered to be considered a friend of her celebrity colleague, and to be taken into Anderson’s confidence. A prologue foreshadows the friendship’s dark turn, revealing that after the German occupation of France, the relationship will deteriorate to such an extent that Hess would “one day cross the border into Germany with the intention of killing her friend Jane.” As the story develops, Wheeler moves back and forth in time to show what takes his protagonists to the brink of violence. He effectively makes uses of the Damoclean sword he’s devised to maintain suspense, and the book’s ornate prose captures the period’s unsettling combination of horror and progress, such as in the description of a new arena in Berlin: “Newly encased in clean white stucco, it looked baroque in that gleaming German way, like a stone block dropped from the heavens.” This is one to savor. (Nov.)