Sunday, February 10, 2019

Book Review: 'The Rigel Affair' by L.M. Hedrick

The Rigel Affair by L.M. Hedrick
War and romance – a view from the deck

New Zealand author L.M. (Lynette) Hedrick has pieced together a fictionalized novel gathered from her mother Mattie’s WW II love affair with a US Navy diver Charlie and the result is a wartime love story that works on every level. Written in conjunction with her husband Bud’s editorial/advisory eye, based on fact and painted with the eloquence of an informed ‘war correspondent’ THE RIGEL AFFAIR blossoms as a fine love story with a credible setting. Both Lynette and Bud have studied creative writing at Auckland University. Lynette has published short stories for New Zealand magazines as well as pursing her gifts as an expressionist artist whose art works sell internationally. 

Lynette offers the following insights about this novel – ‘Our journey to this novel started with my husband Bud's idea and encouragement and endless efforts and support to write it. The next stop was Auckland's Central Library to harvest every account of1940's history, especially daily newspapers. We had to know what Mattie knew. Thank you to New Zealand National Archives, and the fabulous museums in Auckland, Devonport, and Torpedo Bay Navy Museum. Additional pertinent Auckland historical information was supplied by Dale Court of George Courts, and Edward Bennett of the K Road Business Association.’

The manner in which the book opens invites association with Charlie, especially significant for American readers. ‘Whenever Charlie caught a moment, he snuck aside his clothes, and dropped them behind the bushes down by the railings of he old bridge below the farmhouse in Falkner, Mississippi. It was the summer of 1937. He liked to watch the murky Muddy Creek waters ripple in the sunlight and bend their way towards town. Charlie waited for the wind to settle, just to catch tat safe glimpse of the bottom in his favorite swimming hole….His impoverished Ma could not provide for him so when he escaped from the fire at Jackson orphanage in 1927, her sister and Uncle Dee had taken him in.’ Charlie’s history begins to develop and move to the war. But Lynette introduces Mattie in a similar fashion: ’It was summer and any hint of war didn’t deter the gaiety of the Blanc family’s celebrations. Their huge white villa was positioned on the crest of Pine Hill Road, Dunedin, New Zealand, deep in the South Pacific…Mattie walked down the passageway to the sound of George thumping on the piano. Mattie was a gentle soul, of slender build, in her late twenties…’ 

Mood established, style of prose is set and we move into the well-distilled plot summary – ‘Abandoned by his part-Cherokee Ma, Charlie Kincaid escapes servitude with his uncle. He jumps a boxcar, accompanied by his schoolmate Roxy, who is escaping troubles of her own. Charlie becomes a US Navy Diver. Mattie Blanc is from a genteel New Zealand family. But when her brother’s friend persuades her to take a ride, it all goes horribly wrong. Desperate, she flees her family’s stifling expectations for a new life in Auckland. After the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, Charlie sets sail for Auckland aboard the USS Rigel. And there she is, the girl of his dreams. Mattie is everything that Roxy isn’t—sophisticated, tender, and patient. But the war intervenes… Rigel embarks for the Pacific war zones. Charlie’s letters are sporadic. Mattie is tormented by doubts; did he truly love her, or was it only a dream? ‘

The novel offers a fine examination of disparate characters in wartime and the effect of family on finding love. Painted in brilliant colors THE RIGEL AFFAIR glows – the work of a very fine author with a solid future. 

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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