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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, July 21, 2002

Evansville's Shipyard Provides Backdrop for Novel

Every once in a while, I crave a good adventure story. I may not travel very far afield this summer, but through these pages I have faced and solved many a challenge.

Invitation to Valhalla by Mike Whicker (Writer's Showcase, 2001).

Franklin Drug, the Hilltop Tavern, the Republic Aviation factory, the sizzling Trocadero nightclub, the fabulous McCurdy Hotel - it's all here in this thrilling World War II espionage novel set largely in Evansville.

Having met Mike through a book discussion group at Red Bank Library, I was surprised to be handed an autographed copy of his historical novel. It turned out that, while working as an English teacher and assistant football coach at Reitz High School, he had managed to piece together the facts concerning the beautiful German spy Erika Lehmann, code name "Lorelei." In the process he visited England, Germany, and Russia and "spent countless hours applying for access to, then poring over, literally thousands of pages of government documents." He also interviewed both survivors and survivors' descendents concerning these events.

Yes, the Evansville Shipyard (site of the current Bristol Meyers-Squibb parking lot) was important enough to attract German spies in the forties! The Navy was building a massive fleet of Landing Ship-tanks, or LSTs to be used in the Pacific. Far enough away from the coast to discourage attacks but right on the Ohio River, Evansville was a perfect site for an LST shipyard (one of only two).

We know that the FBI concentrated much effort in 1943 to locate the spy transmitting messages from the Evansville area. We know that the code name of the spy was "Lorelei." Now Whicker spins together a marvelous tale that begins within Adolf Hitler's inner circle and continues in busy wartime Evanville.

The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002).

If you like Scott Turow (Presumed Innocent and The Burden of Proof), you'll like this first novel by a Yale University Law Professor.

When arch conservative African American Judge Oliver Garland dies of a heart attack, he leaves behind an intriguing puzzle for his Ivy League law professor son to solve. His Supreme Court nomination having been derailed ten years earlier because of his acquaintance with an underworld figure, Oliver died a bitter man. Now his straight arrow son Talcott's life seems to be in danger unless he can unravel the truth.

A bit long-winded, this was a nevertheless intriguing look at upper class Black society as well as Ivy League and Capital politics.

The Cabinet of Curiosities by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Warner Books, 2002).

This writing team never fails to deliver exciting and intricately plotted adventure. Earlier novels include Relic and The Ice Limit.

Nora Kelly, an archeologist at the New York Museum of Natural History, (which is, we learn, the largest museum in the world, with over three thousand rooms and two hundred miles of 19th century passageways to get lost in), is enlisted on a case by rich, otherworldly FBI Special Agent Pendergast. A tomb full of century-old mutilated bodies has been uncovered at a Manhattan construction site which 130 years ago stood a Cabinet of Curiosities, a museum of odd objects and skeletons gleaned from around the globe. When this discovery is followed by a string of serial murders that are strangely similar to the original murders, Pendergast is determined to stop the bloodshed.

This novel has wonderful Manhattan ambience, both past and present. We race from the Museum to Central Park to the Dakota to decaying old mansions before the murdered is finally apprehended.

Minority Report by Philip K. Dick (Pantheon, 2002).

This is a neat little book that was published to coincide with the release of the Tom Cruise/Stephen Spielberg hit movie. I thought I might pick up a clue in here about why the government didn't cancel the hero's retina identification clearance, but no such luck. The book and the movie diverge considerably. Still, this is a must for true Minority Report aficionados.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.