MacManus (Black Venus, 2013, etc.) draws dramatic fiction from Franklin Delano Roosevelt adviser Harry Hopkins’ World War II exploits in Britain.
Hopkins has FDR’s absolute trust; he’s a "small-town kid who had risen to become one of the most powerful men in the White House." London has been pleading for materiel, but influential U.S. isolationists like Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh urge America to stay out of Europe’s troubles. Churchill’s treasury is empty. A large percentage of military supplies purchased by the Brits are being sunk in the North Atlantic by U-boats. Hopkins’ job in London is to separate reality from propaganda. It’s January 1941. The Luftwaffe is night-bombing British cities; thousands are dying. Drawing on archival materials, MacManus gives veracity to Hopkins’ meetings with Churchill, "a politician of passionate certainty, a natural war leader...brimful of bubbling self-confidence." There are appearances by Edward R. Murrow, the CBS newsman whose nightly reports lobby for America to support the Brits; a cameo by actor Jimmy Stewart; and, most entertainingly, repartee from two men Churchill relied on for blunt truths: Sawyer, his butler/valet, and an Irishman named Bracken. The romance between 50-ish Hopkins and the beautiful 20-something Leonora Finch is straight out of Casablanca. Finch is assigned as Hopkins’ driver, but she’s a British spy expected to uncover useful information. MacManus superbly sketches other major players: Stalin, "austere...hands a[s] huge and as hard as his mind"; Roosevelt, "paranoid…about impeachment...waffled in speeches about the international crisis...muddled answers to straightforward questions." That there are minor errors to be noticed by military and history buffs—cruisers are misidentified as battleships, etc.—doesn’t distract from readability.
Great fun for history buffs who enjoy imagining themselves in the bunkers.