An Alaska woman is drawn into the web of a murderer when he promises to explain her twin sister’s disappearance in Fleischmann’s debut novel.
It's 1941. Elisabeth Pfautz has moved from Lititz, Pennsylvania, the small German immigrant community of her childhood, to Alaska, where her husband, John, has accepted a job teaching children of the Athabaskan tribe. At first Elisabeth, John, and their precocious 11-year-old daughter, Margaret, adjust well to life in the village of Tanacross. But when Alfred, a substitute mail pilot, flies in, Elisabeth can’t quite identify the root of his strangeness. It’s not just that he once flew missions for the kaiser, claims to have seen spaceships, and picks a very bad time to extol their common German heritage. In periodic dreams, Elisabeth relives the year 1921, when she and her twin sister, Jacqueline, were 11. Jacqueline was obsessed with a man named Jacob, another German Great War veteran, who wrote her letters and gave her an ornate dagger. Then one day, Jacqueline disappeared, and so did Jacob. Now Alfred, the mail pilot, tells Elisbaeth that he holds the key to her sister's disappearance and will disclose her whereabouts—for a price. Alfred murders an Athabaskan man, apparently in cold blood, and is sent to prison in Fairbanks. Through letters and prison visits that arouse John’s ire, Elisabeth is given tasks by Alfred that are increasingly intrusive and risky. Soon she is forced into a stark choice between protecting her current family and reclaiming her past. This is a page-turner, keeping us glued to Elisabeth’s struggles as she tries to turn the manipulations of a psychopath to her own ends. But if it weren't for technological advances that might have obviated its premise, this book could have been set in the present. The World War II milieu is glancingly and unconvincingly evoked. The language, particularly the dialogue, does not even attempt the parlance of the day; instead, it is replete with anachronisms like “You’re venting,” "Give me the bottom line,” and "I am here for you,” to cite only a few. However, the Alaskan setting is vividly detailed.
A historical thriller minus the history.