The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.
The Sea Before Us by Sarah Sundin brings into focus British cultural and historical tidbits, a mystery involving an embezzler, a World War II setting, and a love triangle. It is a reminder of how America’s finest prepared for the D-Day invasion to defeat the Nazis.
The year is 1944 and the Allied forces are preparing for the invasion of Normandy. Lieutenant Wyatt Paxton is a US Naval officer advising on how to use naval power during the assault. He works closely with Dorothy Fairfax, a "Wren" in the Women's Royal Naval Service. Her duties include piecing together reconnaissance photographs of France that include those of her own family's summer home. These accurate maps of Normandy, are used by Wyatt to create naval bombardment plans. As their friendship blossoms he uses his other skills as an accountant to help her figure out which employee has been embezzling in her father’s company. The tensions increase as they both must deal with enemies on the home front and abroad.
Having visited Normandy, Sundin was struck with “the impressive sight than we learned in the history books. When I looked at Point du Hoc, where the US Rangers scaled the cliff, I thought that someday I wanted to write about it. I was blown away by what the men did there. After I started to do my research I found out that the US Navy was very involved. I was awed by the role the US destroyers had in Operation Neptune. These ships charged within eight hundred yards of the shore, heedless of mines and artillery, to protect those on the shore. They knocked out strongpoints and toppled gun batteries off cliffs that were pinning down the allied forces. I also wanted to inform readers about the ‘Little Blitz.’ It was overshadowed by the German Blitz during 1940-41. In 1944 the Luftwaffe retaliated for the heavy Allied bombing of German cities, killing 1,500 Londoners. But it actually backfired because they lost 300 bombers, crippling the German Air Force on the eve of the Normandy invasion.”
The characters are very well-developed. They share the feeling of being all alone and having a fractioned family. She has lost her mother and brothers in the war and senses that her father resents her. In the meantime, Wyatt ran from his troubles, being blamed by his brother Adler for his fiancé’s death, even though it was an accident, then stealing two thousand dollars from his brother Clay. Having admitted his mistakes, he is repenting by saving his salary to pay his brother back.
In the beginning of the story Dorothy comes across as insecure, trying to be someone she is not, even going to a point of hiding the freckles on her face. She is doing this for what she perceives is the love of her life, Lieutenant Commander Lawrence Eaton, a self-centered playboy. She looks on Wyatt as a brother and sees Eaton as a heart throb. This romance plays out within the background of WWII and emphasizes the different cultures between the Texan Wyatt and the English Dorothy and Eaton.
Sundin explained, “In hiding her freckles with make-up she is hiding who she is. I put in the story how Wyatt thought they belonged with her red hair and Lawrence thought it dreadful. Wyatt accepted them, and Eaton wanted them covered up and hidden. It is typical of some guys who tell women ‘you would be cute, if...’ Dorothy also tried to be more sophisticated, molding herself into someone she is not to impress Eaton. She basically compromises herself to impress him.”
This new series, ‘Sunrise at Normandy,’ is about three brothers: Wyatt in the Navy, Adler in the Air Force, and Clay a Delta Ranger. Readers will be looking forward to the follow-up books because this first in the series is a home-run.