Monday, January 22, 2018

A Bridge across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

The Queen Mary—I visited the legendary ocean liner last year in Long Beach, California, where she has retired.  She now has a part-time job as a floating hotel, event venue, and tourist attraction.  Some of her glory has been preserved or restored, such as the gorgeous murals made of over 50 types of wood from all over the world used throughout the ship when it was created in 1934 to be a premier luxury liner. The ship also shows scars and desolation left by her other lives, ferrying troops to and from Europe during World War II (painted grey and nicknamed The Grey Ghost) and later bringing European war brides to North America.  Some aspects of the Queen Mary—shadows, noises, deserted corridors, mysterious happenings--give rise to the notion that she is haunted.

Photo By Florian Boyd - originally posted to Flickr as Atlantic map in Royal salon, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Susan Meissner in A Bridge across the Ocean takes the rumors seriously to create a multi-layered story of haunting and history.  First, we meet 21st-century Brette, who is sensitive to the presence of ghosts—she feels them, and sometimes sees and hears them.  Based on the advice of her relatives who also have the . . . gift? curse? --she decided long ago not to acknowledge these “earthbound souls” who have unfinished business that keeps them from moving on to the afterlife. 
Suddenly we are across the ocean in France, 1944.  Simone is hiding from the Gestapo, but it will take a while to find out why.  And who is the wounded soldier they bring into the cellar where she must stay, and where she nurses him?  Then it’s 1946, with war brides of American servicemen gathering in England to cross the ocean to reunite with their husbands.  After a German-speaking Belgian bride named Annaliese boards the Queen Mary under a cloud of suspicion, we learn in shifting time sequences the secrets that clearly haunt her.

The allure of the Queen Mary drew me into how Brette becomes involved with a spirit that is trying to tell her something—and changes as a result—and into the fascinating history of people surviving the horrors of the war, even far from the battlefront.  All are stories worth telling. 

I’m now looking into other Susan Meissner books besides this, her most recent.  Many are historical or connect history to a person in the present, and some have a supernatural element; she has written some contemporary faith-based mysteries as well, starting with Widows and Orphans.  On my list are A Sound among the Trees, about women who have lived in a Southern plantation house from the Civil War to the present; A Fall of Marigolds, in which the events of September 11 hark back to September of 1911; and The Girl in the Glass, which goes all the way back to the Renaissance.  I look forward to As Bright as Heaven, set in 1918 Philadelphia and coming out next month.  You can place a hold on it now in advance, while you find Meissner’s other books on the shelves, or in ebook or audiobook, at Virginia Beach Public Libraries. 
Review by Lynn

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