BOOK REVIEW: THE WOMAN IN THE WING
Like reading high-flying WWII novels of adventure and mystery? Then Jean Sheldon's excellent page-turning book The Woman In The Wing is a novel you're sure to enjoy! Sheldon, the author of the popular mystery series featuring Chicago police Detective Kerry Grant, sets this book also in Chicago, but during the WWII era. The contributions women made to the war effort are often overlooked, but they made many crucial contributions and sacrifices that greatly aided the Allies in their defeat of Nazi Germany under Hitler. The Woman In The Wing chronicles the emergence of the brave, gutsy, and determined women flyers who flew and transported planes as the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) and the countless numbers of "Rosie the Riveters" who worked building planes. Also, the main character, Charlene (Char) Mercer, working at the fictional WASP airfield near Douglas Aircraft (where O'Hare Airport is today), has to contend with ruthless Nazi spies and the misogynist Major Deavers on her way to earning her Silver Wings.
You might reasonably ask, "What does the title The Woman In The Wing refer to?" After all, pilots fly the planes, one might reason, so shouldn't the title be more like, say, The Woman In The Cockpit? I'm glad you asked that question. Char, prevented from getting her Silver Wings (at least, temporarily) by Major Deavers because she won't show how much she wants to fly by having sex with him, instead is given the mission to work at Douglas Aircraft as a riveter. Neither one knows that what she's really being asked to do is to work with her partner, FBI Agent Ellie Frazier, posing as a riveter to stop Nazi saboteurs bent on hampering the United States and its allies from defeating Germany. Riveters worked as teams of two, one outside of the wing with a riveting gun and one inside known as a "bucker" because she'd hold something called a "buck board" against the holes where the rivets would go in. The one inside would, literally, be a woman in the wing of a plane. Also, the title likely refers to the fact that women had begun to play a larger role in the war, rather than being relegated to being "in the wings."
The camaraderie that develops between Char and her fellow flight trainees and, later, with her co-workers at Douglas Aircraft, helps give her and the other characters in the novel an added amount of three-dimensionality that makes whoever reads the books care for the characters more, and root for them to succeed despite the many difficulties that confront them. Char applied to be a WASP with her best friend, Maxine (Maxi) Davies, who shares her interest in flying. A lot of men at the time wanted to see the WASP program fall on its face, thinking unjustly that wars and flying airplanes are not ladylike pursuits, and that women should not and weren't meant to be active participants in such previously male-dominated arenas.
However, not all men were unenlightened Neanderthals, and some believed that a woman could do and be anything she set her mind to being and doing. For instance, there's Ellie's brother, the FBI Agent Dave Frazier, injured during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He grew up nurtured and surrounded by his sisters and other women, and does all he can to making sure that Major Deavers doesn't thwart Char's getting her Silver Wings. By being the love interest of the WASP Commander Mathison, he also injects a bit of romance into this intriguing historically based mystery novel.
The Woman In The Wing evokes a sense of the struggles and hardships women had to endure to begin playing a more active part in WWII. Though a fictional account of the WASP, Jean Sheldon's research of them was thorough, and she cites many references at the end of her book for anyone who wants to learn more about them. It's also a very suspenseful mystery, with enough Nazis, murders, and sabotage to hold the interest of the most jaded mystery fans. The Woman In The Wing is a book you'll want to add to your reading list today!
REVIEWED BY DOUGLAS R. COBB
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