The Letter Writer by Dan Fesperman pairs an unlikely duo, in this fascinating historical fiction happening in NYC in 1942. These strange bedfellows uncover truths about and espionage during the opening chapters of WWII. “The past wasn’t something left behind. It was a parasite in the bloodstream, a congenital disorder. You could only hope that others wouldn’t spot the symptoms.” One is a transplanted cop from NC, Woodrow Cain, who has a protective “rabbi” in NYC and the other is a multilingual letter writer in the Lower East Side, Danzinger. Because Danzinger knows the darkest secrets of his non-English speaking recent immigrant clients, he can be useful to Cain, as he must solve crimes in NYC. A recent event, the burning of the SS Normandie, helps things get convoluted and dicey for this pair as well as for the officials of NYC and national security. We are in a hectic time with Nazi sympathizers in Yorkville, Japanese internment beginning, mobs running the docks, Ellis Island used to deport now instead of take in newly arrived immigrants, and police in over their heads. It seems strange to find this odd couple, each with varied and sordid pasts, working together to find difficult solutions as they are constantly looking over their shoulders. The Police and the mob work together to form a union to root out saboteurs in the docks and to help watch for submarines along the shorelines. It is an unholy union, but a necessary one.
“Who are we to trust, then? And when events inevitably turn for the worse, who are we to blame? When you are born in one homeland, and then move to another, and the two become mortal enemies, who can say for sure where your loyalties will reside? Those are the questions which press upon our souls.”
Danzinger’s past begins when he first arrives in America and then he loses his parents in the PS General Slocum tragedy of 1904. He takes up with the likes of a young Meyer Lansky and others associated with Murder Inc. He escapes this old life and begins his new life as a letter writer in 1928, but in 1942 he is discovered. He and Cain are scrambling to make it all make sense with bad guys, good guys, and the navy seeming to be in bed with each other for the war effort and in the name of patriotism. Of course this complicates things for our dynamic duo, who are the fictional characters in this well-done historical fiction novel that provides some interesting facts about those early years of the war.