Zorensky’s debut is a meticulous historical novel set during the 1940 U.S. presidential campaign.
As Franklin Roosevelt begins his run for an unprecedented third term and Nazi agents prepare schemes to sway the electorate, British-American sportswriter Percy Brown finds himself caught up in a dangerous spy game. A recent recruit of British intelligence, Percy serves as liaison between the beautiful Elsa—a German-American double agent keeping tabs on dour Nazi spy Karl Mueller—and impatiently irascible SIS operative Nigel Dunderdale. But as Elsa gets closer to discovering the extent of Karl’s ties to a ring of German saboteurs, Percy gets increasingly in over his head. The care with which Zorensky painstakingly recreates the physical, cultural and political world of 1940 is plainly evident; his characters drive on the same roads, walk the same streets and visit the same sites (including a downtown Manhattan gun shop) that flesh-and-blood people of the period would have. Zorensky makes good use of historical cameos, too, peppering the text with visits from the likes of Charles Lindbergh, labor leader John L. Lewis and a few dozen professional baseball figures. Indeed, if Zorensky errs in any direction with regard to historical accuracy, it would be in making the work almost slavishly adherent to it; his plot and characters often feel yoked to the chain of factual events—including the New York World’s fair bombing and an explosion at a New Jersey powder factory—and are given too few chances to breathe on their own. Zorensky’s passion for sharing interesting details—both historical and drawn from his character’s rich back stories—is sometimes too apparent, and often results in unfortunate digressions of exposition that stop the plot cold, as characters spend whole chapters telling each other things they already know rather than cutting to the chase. A fun, melodramatic and authentic spy thriller is contained in the text, but is yet to be carved out by a final, brutal edit.
A mighty swing, but out at home.