Songbird Under A German Moon
Betty Lake couldn’t be more excited for her future – a girl with little money and no formal training, she never thought she’d travel much beyond her own front door. But the war gave women a chance to do things they had never done before, and she is getting to travel with the USO to Germany to entertain the troops working there during the occupation.
Frank Witt couldn’t be more confused by his new assignment. A U.S. Army Corp photographer, he has taken pictures during bomb runs and while running with troops during invasions – photos that captured the drudgery and danger of life in a war zone. So why is he now being assigned to shoot USO girls? Sure they’re beautiful, but since his photography is really just a cover for his real purpose as a spy, he can’t figure out what he’s doing spying on the USO.
Ironically, he meets one of his new subjects on a rather bumpy flight into Germany. He admires how she distracts the troops from plane trouble by singing her heart out. She admires his movie star good lucks and reassuring manner. Finding out he’s going to be doing photos of the USO girls thrills her to no end. She’ll get a chance to know him a bit better and maybe he’ll get the chance to see that there is more to her than a pretty smile and great voice.
The USO is no outfit for sissies though, and Betty is put to work almost right away. The troop is performing in the beautiful Bayreuth Festspielhaus, a theater designed specifically by Wagner to showcase his music. Since Hitler was such a Wagner fan and had actually come to performances at this theater, some find it appropriate that the USO is now entertaining American troops there. Others find it creepy that the theater still stands. Much is made of Wagner’s own oddities and how his music was a perfect match for the Nazi regime. To be honest, I knew nothing of this but I was fascinated by the juxtaposing of the cheery American bandstand style music and the heavy, classical style of the previous owners. Much is made of the size of the theater, how easy it is to get lost in it, and how “the girls” are more than a little creeped out by the place.
It doesn’t help that the USO troops are being housed in the house Wagner built near the theater. It makes sense that the girls would be within walking distance, but some feel that the cloud of Wagner still lingers over the home. Then Betty’s roommate, Kat, is found dead. It is officially called suicide, but Betty knows Kat had a secret, a secret that might very well have prevented her from taking her own life. Betty turns to Frank for help. As the two try to find out what really happened to Kat, they find themselves drawing closer together. Will a shared faith and a growing friendship lead them to find love under a German moon?
What I liked about this book was the history. It was fascinating to read about how the occupation troops felt about the German people, the war, and life at home. I had never read anything about the USO and my quick look into it here was fascinating. I found myself wanting to learn more about how they did what they did. I also liked how specifically time and place were used in this novel. The USO girls only performed in Bayreuth during the time frame Betty was there – 1945, for about six months. Bayreuth is a unique location, and, since the focus of time we were looking at was so narrow, it made for a clear and concise setting.
I found the information about Wagner intriguing. I did a quick search on the internet and found that years before Hitler was born, this man was spouting some pretty nasty anti-Semitic statements. The novel discusses that and also what a huge influence Wagner was on Hitler – and what a huge fan Hitler was of Wagner’s operas. While I can’t attest to the accuracy of everything we are told, I certainly found the information regarding Wagner – and music in general – one of the more fascinating aspects of the book.
This is an inspirational, so God and faith are mentioned. Sporadically and awkwardly. It almost seemed that the author would be chugging along and suddenly remember she was writing an inspirational and throw something in to do with God. I would have preferred to have had their faith be an integral part of their characters – shown rather than told – rather than a tacked on, but I can imagine this is hard to do sometimes. It certainly didn’t detract from the story, just made it a bit less smooth.
Frank and Betty were an okay couple. I didn’t pick up on any sparks flying but there was certainly nothing about them that made me think “that’ll never last.” For a romance couple that isn’t exactly high praise, but in fairness it beats some books I’ve read.
The mystery isn’t all that great. From the beginning there were only a handful of people it could have been, which takes some of the suspense out of the issue. I also felt some red herrings were thrown out and then never picked back up. That left me with a mild sense of frustration rather than the satisfaction I normally feel when a fictional crime is solved.
Overall, the history and subject matter are what are truly interesting about this book. If you like the time period and enjoy a unique romance setting, I would (conditionally) recommend it.