Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Melody of Secrets by Jeffrey Stepakoff

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: August 17, 2013

Jeffrey Stepakoff's The Melody of Secrets is an epic love story set against the 1960s U.S. space program, when deeply-buried secrets could threaten not just a marriage, but a country. Maria was barely eighteen as WWII was coming to its explosive end. A brilliant violinist, she tried to comfort herself with the Sibelius Concerto as American bombs rained down. James Cooper wasn't much older. A roguish fighter pilot stationed in London, he was shot down during a daring night raid and sought shelter in Maria’s cottage. Fifteen years later, in Huntsville, Alabama, Maria is married to a German rocket scientist who works for the burgeoning U.S. space program. Her life in the South is at peace, purposefully distanced from her past. Everything is as it should be—until James Cooper walks back into it. Pulled from the desert airfield where he was testing planes no sane Air Force pilot would touch, and drinking a bit too much, Cooper is offered the chance to work for the government, and move himself to the front of the line for the astronaut program. He soon realizes that his job is to report not only on the rocket engines but also on the scientists developing them. Then Cooper learns secrets that could shatter Maria’s world...

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Pop quiz! When was the last time I picked up anything set in the 1960s? Anyone? Anyone at all? Don't worry. I can't remember either and I'm not above admitting if it not for the WWII story line I would have steered clear of Jeffrey Strapakoff's The Melody of Secrets. I've nothing against the author, this is the first of his books I've ever read, I'm just not all that interested in the era. Needless to say I felt like I was going out on a limb with this piece. 

Fun thing about taking risks is that every now and then, it works in your favor and I'm pleased to say that is what happened here. When all was said and done, I found this piece had a lot of really appealing material especially when looking at how Stepakoff portrayed his cast. Hans, Maria and James are appropriately complex characters, their emotions and motivations driving them to make difficult decisions in pursuit of their goals. Cookie cutter characters wouldn't have worked here and I was quite impressed with Stepakoff's ability to both recognize and avoid the stereotypical and mundane. I only wish every aspect of the story came together as well. 

Maria's relationship with Josephine in particular felt forced. Don't get me wrong, I was very much intrigued by the parallels Stepakoff drew between the prejudices that characterized the 1940s with those of the 1960s, but the story line never gained the momentum or flow I'd hoped it would. I have similar feelings regarding the conclusion of the narrative. Here again I felt the author was forcing something into the story, something that actually contradicted the values and integrity he'd built into his heroine. Neither element ruined the piece for me, but I can't help feeling I might have enjoyed the book more if they'd been approached differently. 

All in all, a solid and enjoyable read. The Melody of Secrets is a thought-provoking tale about the legacy of our decisions and sometimes convoluted distinction between good and evil. 

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"If you come across a door, do not open it... because once you do, you will never be able to lie to yourself again." 
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