The Woman in the Sable Coat

Icy winds buffet the ocean liner as Nina Woodrow contemplates jumping to her death. Elizabeth Brooks (The Whispering House) opens her complex fourth novel, The Woman in the Sable Coat, with this foreboding prologue, set in 1946, which is followed by chapters shifting back to 1934.

Nina, 14, and her widowed father live in a bucolic English village where she and her friend Rose meet neighbors Guy and Kate on a summer afternoon. Kate is pregnant, but Guy and his friend Joey unashamedly flirt with the teenagers. The awkward evening that follows sets up the course of the next 12 years. Both Nina and Guy enter the Royal Air Force when World War II erupts, leaving Kate and her son in the village, where Mr. Woodrow also waits out the war. Alternating chapters from Nina's and Kate's points of view heighten suspense as their stories reveal the plot twists that, unbeknownst to them, link their lives. The duplicitous Guy, enigmatic Mr. Woodrow, and self-absorbed Joey each harbor secrets impacting the women.

In Brooks's psychological thriller, war is a backdrop to the more personal deceptions creating danger and heartbreak. A sense of unease permeates the novel, through Nina's father's evasiveness about the family's past and the curiously deep bond between Guy and Joey. The post-war feeling of relief in 1946 doesn't liberate Nina, Kate, and Rose from the trials they've endured, but each woman displays a tenacious fortitude, suggesting hope for a hard-won secure future. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

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