Clare Childs knew life would change when she unexpectedly inherited the “Maggie Bright”–a noble fifty-two-foot yacht. In fact, she’s counting on it. But the boat harbors secrets. When a stranger arrives, searching for documents hidden onboard, Clare is pulled into a Scotland Yard investigation that could shed light on Hitler’s darkest schemes and prompt America to action. Across the Channel, Hitler’s “Blitzkrieg” has the entire British army in retreat with little hope for rescue at the shallow beaches of Dunkirk.
With time running out, Churchill recruits civilian watercraft to help. Hitler is attacking from land, air, and sea, and any boat that goes might not return. Yet Clare knows “Maggie Bright” must answer the call–piloted by an American who has refused to join the war effort until now and a detective with a very personal motive for exposing the truth.The fate of the war hinges on this rescue. While two men join the desperate fight, a nation prays for a miracle.
The year is 1940 and England is in full retreat from continental Europe with Hitler’s army bearing down on the them, set on annihilating the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) before they are evacuated from Dunkirk. The beaches of Dunkirk are scarred by the horrors of war as despondent men join the endless queue to board Navy and civilian ships while peppered by German bullets and bombs. On the homefront, the British stand in solidarity and prayer for their boys and eventual victory over the Nazis. And so the scene is set for Tracy Groot’s newest novel Maggie Bright (Tyndale House).
Maggie Bright follows a cast of verbose and quirky characters whose lives intersect in the most unexpected situations. Clare Child is the surprised inheritor of a distinguished yacht, Maggie Bright (the descriptor “yar” from Katherine Hepburn’s “The Philadelphia Story” comes to mind). Her dream is to sail around the world now that she has escaped the abusive custody of her uncle and his complicit wife (albeit these two antagonists are never directly given page time). No sooner has Clare established a floating bed and breakfast with one vexatious tenant, Mrs Shrew, than they are set upon by a thieving Reverend from America.
American Murray Vance returns to England to liberate his dear friend and mentor from Scotland Yard after he is arrested for sneaking on to the yacht. Murray is an isolationist and eccentric artist who takes verbal detours as he processes his thoughts aloud. He works his conversation in to tangled webs that initially seem nonsensical, but are actually revealing of his innermost feelings and observations. Murray’s past is indelibly tied to Maggie Bright and the harrowing secret harboured aboard.
In addition to these two principals are a mercurial and devoted detective, a determined soldier tasked with an overwhelming mission, a Milton spouting army captain who has taken leave of reality, and a band of army brothers just trying to fight their way home. Having no fewer than half a dozen starring characters and numerous secondary storylines to contend with was at times overwhelming. Some of the links between plot and characters are tenuous at best, but Tracy Groot aims to paint a varied landscape of all the fronts of war and the different emotional, physical and psychological battles fought by one and all.
The pacing is lethargic for the first half as the groundwork is laid for the insinuated great reveal and eventual climax. The plot is simultaneously ambiguous and enticing and lacks a definitive conclusion due to the historical timeline in which it ends. What keeps readers riveted and committed to this offbeat storytelling is the uniqueness of Tracy Groot’s writing voice. She steers clear of pedestrian dialogue in favour of idiosyncratic monologues and interactions that hint to her characters’ deepest thoughts. Her description of setting artfully illustrate and grant the imagination a full sensorial experience of her characters’ environment. Tracy Groot’s prose is cerebral and literary in quality and execution.
Within the constant flips in point of view and setting is a plot of bravery and sacrifice in the face of the purest evil. Maggie Bright is a reminder that many gave so that freedom and justice would prevail. Tracy Groot highlights a pivotal moment in the war and exposes readers to a war narrative that is sometimes overlooked by the genre. For that reason alone, Maggie Bright is a worthy addition to a contemporary history lover’s reading list.
*Disclosure: review copy provided by publisher for consideration.*
**This novel was originally published with Family Fiction Magazine**