The London Bookshop Affair: A Novel
It is a cold February night in 1942. Dancers are swaying to the music at London’s Feldman’s Swing Club. “A wave of dizziness came as the band segued into a new, slower beat and Jeannie drew closer into Harry’s arms, intoxicated by the smell of him.” Soon he asks her if she is hungry. He wants her to get a taste of some real American food.
On the way to the Rainbow Corner near Piccadilly they cuddle. There he introduces her to her first American hamburger and a Coca-Cola. Suddenly, he becomes serious. The change somewhat alarms her. Harry asks Jeannie to marry him. Stunned, she drops her fork. He professes his love for her and offers her a ring as a sign of his commitment. After the shock wears off, she replies “Yes!” Three times.
After that they become inseparable until his leave is over and he has to report back to his USAAF unit. Everyone notices her joy, even her parents. What has come over her?
In May she notices a nervous airman walking back and forth in front of where she works. She opensthe door to ask him if he needs help. “But the blood froze in her veins all the same, because somehow, she already knew.” Nat, Harry’s friend, gently informs her Harry’s plane went down. All on board died. Her joy immediately turns to grief. To make matters worse she is pregnant with Harry’s child.
Although her father is fighting in North Africa her parents are still able to collaborate. Without informing Jeannie they decide the child will be born in secret and given up for adoption.
The birthing pains come and go. When she wakes up, she realizes her parents have actually followed through with their scheme. “She announced to her wretched-faced mother, ‘I’m naming my daughter. Celia. It means heavenly.’”
Jeannie finds a position that enables her to utilize the many talents and skills she learned from her father. That is important information she fails to share with her parents. They think it would be an adventureless, cushy job. It is not as they would eventually learn.
Celia wonders why her parents are always at each other’s throats. She cannot understand why her father will not teach her his native tongue. He taught Jeannie. Why did he not take her camping or teach her wilderness skills as he did her sister? These things bother her greatly.
At nineteen she is quite discouraged, especially when Mr. and Mrs. Blythe decide to sell H. J. Potts Booksellers. Is she going to be out of a job? A job she had since she was sixteen? How will she ever better herself?
Mrs. Denton, the new owner, decides to keep her on. Celia soon runs the bookshop by herself. Mrs. Denton sequesters herself in her apartment above the store.
As time goes on Celia begins asking herself why there are not many browsers and even fewer customers buying the antique books the store offers. Many are first editions by “Austin, Bronte, Chaucer, Dickens, Eliot, James, and Joice” all in their original flawless bindings. Yet many “friends” visit Mrs. Denton.
In 1962 the Cuban Missile Crisis has the whole world on edge. Celia’s childhood confidant Daphne adds more confusion to her life.
One-night Daph takes her to a demoralizing lecture on the horrors of the atomic bomb by Professor Bertrand Russell. He emphasizes the fact that if there was an atomic war there would be no winners. He calls on his audience to use peaceful means to ban such weapons. That night Celia joins the professor’s Committee of 100 and is soon launched into a new avocation: peace activist/sleuth.
She starts her gumshoe activities at home where she finds something that not only shocks her, but changes her life forever. Her parents have been lying to her all her life. She is determined to learn more about her discovery. One name catches her interest, a Miss Clarke. Who is she? What is the secret relationship between her parents and Jeannie? She has to get to the bottom of this.
As she ponders this another mystery begins to percolate in her mind. The bookstore! She consults with Daph and her close friend Sam. Mrs. Denton does not seem concerned about the low revenues generated by the rare book sales. In fact, she remembers when she proposed ways to generate more sales, Mrs. Denton gets angry with her! Why?
Why is Septimus from the American Embassy always asking to see Mrs. Denton? The next time he visits the shop he asks Celia if they can meet for tea. How odd.
Several days later the horrible man with the scar is back. It is the way he always looks at her as if he knows her that gives her the willies. His visits always leave goosebumps up and down her spine.
Not long after the latest scar man visits, Celia goes to see Miss Clarke again. Over tea she shares her uneasiness about the bookshop, especially with regard to the man with the scar on his face.
She asks why Septimus, an embassy man, is there so often? What is his connection with Mrs. Denton? Is she wrong to be concerned? Perhaps it is her youth or maybe her involvement with Professor Russell’s Committee of 100.
To find answers she, Daph, and Sam hatch a plan. Sam will be the lookout while Celia snoops around. It is the perfect plan. How can anything go wrong?
All is going well when Celia hears someone shout, “YOU!”
The mission just blew up in her face.
Celia and Miss Clarke visit where the Natzweiler-Struthof Concentration Camp once was. Celia prays and as they leave, she says, “Goodbye, Mummy. May you rest easy.”