Reviewed by Sarah McCubbin
A historical novel, Sleep in Peace Tonight introduces the reader to Harry Hopkins, the novel’s main character and a confidant, adviser, and friend of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The year is 1941. As Hopkins arrives in England, you can almost hear the nightly air-raid sirens, anti-aircraft fire, and bombs dropping in the already-battered London. By day, the people shuffle through a pseudo-normal routine. By night they gather behind black-out curtains, drinking and smoking the hours away or hovering in bomb shelters hoping their homes and loved ones will see the next day. England has been at war for two years and their resources are running thin. The Luftwaffe (German air force) has severely damaged the British military, and Churchill has been asking Roosevelt for assistance. Hopkins is sent to England to survey the damage and report back to the president. All the while Roosevelt tries to determine if it is indeed true that Britain will be lost without United States’ involvement.
This novel maintains a heavy use of names, dates, and places, making it read more like a history book for large parts of the text. In his acknowledgement page, James MacManus, the author of Sleep in Peace Tonight, gives the reader the best idea of his intentions. However, there was no introductory page to set the tone for the book, which made understanding the purpose and direction of the story initially difficult to follow.
I enjoyed this book for its historical storyline more than the novel quality. So many of the key events in history are known by most dramatic elements such as heroes, battles, and victims. This book mentions those elements in passing, but primarily this is the story of the key players behind the action of WWII. As such, it is not a fast paced, high action read. Sleep in Peace Tonight focuses more on the conversations and interactions of those recruiting United States involvement prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It also maintains a second, smaller storyline of a secret group of women who fought behind enemy lines, facing a high risk of capture and death, to undermine the German efforts.
Hopkins was a curious character. He was a close friend of Roosevelt’s, with a history of loss and illness. Almost continuously, he and the other characters are described drinking excessively and smoking as they dealt with the stress of war. He seemed a man torn between his past and the present…pulled between his memories of his wife and his longings for his lover in the present. Repeatedly described in terms like gaunt, thin, gray, and sickly, I found it unlikely that a young, attractive woman would be drawn into an affair with him. However, one quote jumped out of the book and stuck with me regarding the excessively indulgent behavior displayed by the population as a whole—including Hopkins and his friends. After their tryst, Hopkin’s lover wants to squash his guilt over their affair and says, “There’s a war on. We all need a little joy in our lives.”
With that rationale, it is much easier to understand the great men and women involved in the war efforts. They were fallen, imperfect, and prone to all manner of debauchery and indulgence; but they also worked hard to preserve and protect the lives of the people they were entrusted to represent and protect in a time of extreme stress and uncertainty. This story is for those who love history….all of it. It is for people who enjoy the details behind great events in the past that rarely come to the light. It is for those who understand that great victories often come with great loss. Truly this book felt like a tribute to Harry Hopkins and the many people whose efforts cloaked in secrecy contributed much to the winning of the Second Great War.
Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Thomas Dunne Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.