The Rigel Affair by L M Hedrick
This book has received excellent reviews and several literary awards as a fictional romantic thriller. It was certainly an easy read.
L M Hendrick based her fictional story on real letters from a serving United States Navy Diver written to a lovesick New Zealand girl working in Auckland during World War Two.
The tension builds throughout the pages when duty calls and battles commence in the Pacific Front. Sympathy goes out to both the American Navy man who has to follow orders and the young girl who is unsure of his love. There is some adult content but this fits into the context. Will he come back… or won’t he?
I found the early chapters a little disconcerting as the author built her characters separately with two young people leaving home: slipping from Mississippi USA to Dunedin New Zealand in alternating chapters. However as the characters developed it was clear that they were individuals looking forward to new lives. Mattie Blanc and Charlie Kincaid face experiences separately but as their passion deepens they become soulmates in spite of secret missions and separation. Interwoven through the early beginnings are the differences between their two cultures. Cutlery use at meals, courteous behaviour of sailors with money for luxuries like silk stockings and chocolates, are slipped into the story easily. Attitudes to civilians and racial difficulties of the time are not ignored.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 brought thousands of American servicemen to New Zealand. Anyone who has read “The Yanks are Coming” by Harry Bioletti will easily imagine the impact healthy young men with plenty of money had on the depressed life of New Zealanders after two years at war in Europe. It is easy to fully appreciate the situation these two young people found themselves in.
This war time romance with ever present danger from the battle front is beautifully drawn.
The USS Rigel is a repair ship vital to recovering and repairing damaged battleships. She was berthed in Pearl harbour and the divers aboard had to recover bodies from sister ships in the aftermath of the Japanese bombing as well as repair ships wherever they could. The main characters are drawn sympathetically with personal conflicts between naval servicemen outlined. The tense situations highlight their lives.
My favourite part of the story was the carefully researched background to Auckland in the 1940’s. There were trams running from the wharves up to K’road. (that unpronounceable street at the top of Queen street!) The description of the city, including the Hair Dressing Academy , George Courts Department store had lifts with a conductor to announce each floor. Dancing at the Peter Pan! All this research has been done carefully and with authenticity, bringing Auckland city of the day, to life.
Equally well done research into training as a Navy Diver was made with help from a liaison officer from the US Navy. The story was well set in the period with background to the action in the Pacific documented clearly.
The author is a New Zealander and together with her American husband, has made an authentic story. This is a timely reminder of the individuals who took part the Pacific conflict in World War Two, as we reach the seventy-fifth anniversary.
Reviewer: Sonia Edwards
Chez Blanc Publishing