Sunday, August 11, 2013

Review: Brave Hearts by Carolyn Hart


Brave Hearts, Carolyn Hart.  Seventh Street Books, August 2013 (Amherst, NY).  Paperback: $13.95 ISBN 978-1-61614-797-6.  E-book: $9.99.  ISBN 978-61614-798-3.  267 pages.  Originally published in 1987.

Carolyn Hart says that her suspense novels are about courage, and we do, indeed, witness the main characters, Catharine Cavanaugh and Jack Maguire, summoning their courage in wretched wartime conditions, first during the London blitz; then in Manilla when the Japanese took control after bombing Pearl Harbor; and then on Mindanao, another island in the Philippines, where they, Catherine’s husband, Spencer, and a few other Americans took refuge in the mountains to escape the Japanese.

Most interesting to me was the emotional transformation that Catharine makes from a loveless marriage and ongoing grief for her baby son, to a new love that, in the beginning, is hard for her to trust but ends by helping her to endure privation and terror that would cause most of us to flee for our lives.  

When we look back sometimes at what we ourselves survived to emerge whole again, and think back in history to harsh and cruel conditions that human beings have managed to live through, we marvel at the resilience of the human spirit.  It is very manifest here.

The secret for Catharine and maybe for all of us getting through especially rough times is human love.  I remember reading the psychiatrist Victor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning, when I was young.  He lived through several Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz and he attributes  his survival to his love for his wife, which he kept alive in his mind’s eye.

Spencer Cavanaugh, an American diplomat, is preoccupied with his career, which Catharine’s inherited wealth and her support with entertaining, have helped.  Now, in late 1941, he is sent to the Philippines to rescue the gold there.  He must take Catharine because the Philippine government needs to believe that the Americans aren’t worried about a Japanese invasion.  Spencer also loves outside his marriage, but his career and the gold he’s responsible for trump love.

For Catharine and Jack, love and being together trump everything else.  Catharine doesn’t love Spencer, but she feels responsible to help him, and this is hard on Jack.  Eventually she has to choose.  The harrowing wartime experience, plus Jack’s courage, ingenuity, and love hang in the balance until she decides.

I have enjoyed all three of Hart’s World War II novels: Escape from Paris (see blog for June 8) also re-issued earlier this year from Seventh Street, and Letter from Home (2003) (see blog for May 25, 2013).  Carolyn and I were both children in those war years (1941-45).  In a way that war shaped the rest of the century.  Its weapons, brutality, and its fights for preserving home, love, and peace are still with us.  Many countries in the world have since then known terrible wars and human suffering on a grand scale.

It’s bracing to be reminded of what human beings have managed to do to live and outwit dangerous foes and to keep love and hope alive.  That story never grows old, and we need it as much today as at any time in human history.



Carolyn Hart is the author of 50 novels. Her 50th new novel - DEAD, WHITE AND BLUE, 23rd in the Death on Demand series – was published in May 2013. 

Recent titles include DEATH COMES SILENTLY, 22nd in the Death on Demand series. Forthcoming in October 2013 will be GHOST GONE WILD, 4th in a series featuring the late Bailey Ruth Raeburn, an impetuous red-headed ghost who returns to earth to help someone in trouble. 

LETTER FROM HOME, a stand alone novel set in Oklahoma, was published by Berkley in 2003. Gretchen Gilman is 13 in the summer of 1944 and working on the small town newspaper. Murder occurs on the street where she lives, changing her life forever. LETTER FROM HOME was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers at Oklahoma State University Tulsa. Letter from Home won the Agatha for Best Mystery Novel of 2003 and was a New York Times notable book. 

Hart was one of ten mystery authors featured at the National Book Festival on the Mall in Washington D.C. in 2003 and again in 2007. In March 2004 she received the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. She has twice won the annual Oklahoma Book Award for best novel. In April 2004 she spoke at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. on mysteries in American culture. She received the Ridley Pearson Award at Murder in Grove, Boise, Idaho, in 2005 for significant contributions to the mystery field. She has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Malice Domestic and the Amelia Award in May 2013. 

Hart is a native of Oklahoma City, a Phi Beta Kappa journalism graduate of the University of Oklahoma, and a former president of Sisters in Crime. She is also a member of Authors Guild, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the International Crime Writers Association, the International Thrillers Association, and the American Crime Writers League. She taught professional writing in the University of Oklahoma School of Journalism from 1982-85. She is the author of 50 mysteries, winner of three Agatha Awards for Best Novel, two Anthonys and two Macavitys. 


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