Two O’Clock, Eastern Wartime – John Dunning

Cover of "Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime"

Not what I was expecting. What I thought this would be, from the book description, and what I wanted was something along the lines of (though probably more serious than) … oh dear, this will take a little searching. AMC series, radio station – Ah: Remember WENN (1996 – 1998). I did, in the end, remember. “… Set at the fictional Pittsburgh radio station WENN in the early 1940s, it depicted events (both dramatic and comic) in the personal and professional lives of the station’s staff in the era before and during World War II.” Yes. I’d like some of that, please. (Seriously, I’d love another book set in a 40’s radio station. I’ll have to do some hunting.) The book description talks about “an English actor who walked out of the radio station six years ago and was never seen again” – I love those stories. There’s something about a story about a man who enters a lane and never comes out the other end … it’s as good as a locked room murder.

The story Two O’Clock, Eastern Wartime begins to tell is more of a conspiracy tale, involving men in dark glasses and clandestine surveillance and secret identities, none of which seems to have anything to do with the war going on. About a third of the way in it – and Jack Dulaney, the main character – finally settled into WHAR radio in New Jersey, and it started being part of what I wanted, in spades: behind the scenes in 40’s radio. It was wonderful, and made me very glad I stuck it out.

Jack – or Jordan Ten Eyck, as he calls himself in this new life – is something of a wunderkind; he always wrote, and now adapts to radio drama like a pony to a field of clover, and he’s amazing at it. A little too amazing, to tell the truth; the definitions of “Mary Sue” (in this case Gary Stu) kept going through my mind every time he knocked out another stunning script in an hour and a half, and every time he flouted the rules and was barely chastised when anyone else would have been fired and blackballed. He even marvels about how he’s running the place in just a couple of months; it’s a bit much. Particularly in conjunction with how his story ends …

For me it took a very long time to click into gear. There were a few storylines being juggled here, and I was somewhat disappointed that the one I was most interested in was given rather short shrift, and was, in fact, cut off. The ending wasn’t what I would have wanted. I enjoyed the book – but I would have had a lot more fun with it if the radio setting had been the star.

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