James MacManus’s new novel, Sleep in Peace Tonight, brings history and fiction together to tell the story of Harry Hopkins, aide and close personal confidante to Franklin Roosevelt. With Roosevelt unable to commit America into the war, Harry is sent to England as an envoy for British-American relations where he engages with the larger-than-life prime minister determined to bring America into the fight: Winston Churchill. Signed to attend to Harry as a driver and liaison officer is Leonora Finch, a smart, energetic, and beautiful young woman with whom Harry develops an instant camaraderie. Leonora is a bright young thing to Harry’s middle-aged image in the mirror, but as the war unravels around them Leonora and Harry discover that their feelings for each other have nothing to do with the desperation of an unknowable future. As Harry adjusts to wartime life abroad, experiencing close calls of his own while falling deeper in love with Leonora and deeper under the spell of Churchill’s vision, England and the war will change him in ways he could never imagine. Sleep in Peace Tonight is alternatively a compelling wartime romance and an entertaining sojourn into the history of World War II. MacManus combines fictional characters (Leonora) with factual ones (Harry Hopkins) and the result is a great addition to the WWII fiction genre. The line between truth and fiction blurs easily, bringing the ingredients of MacManus’s story into one cinematic adventure. Leonora comes to life as if she really had been cut from history, a whip-smart Brit with a bit of Lana Turner flair. Likewise, the historical characters are drawn faithfully from their roots with dedicated authenticity, from Harry Hopkins to the iconic silhouettes of FDR and Churchill. Also very much a character on its own is the author’s native England, from the countryside at Chequers in Buckinghamshire to the streets and pubs of Westminster. The impact of the Blitz is heartrending as readers witness it through the eyes of Harry, who entered the country as an American but whose ties and memories in London have some soon believing he may have “gone native”.
Despite the ever-popular backdrop of World War II, Sleep in Peace Tonight has a way of feeling quite new; whether it’s the unique romance between the main characters or the descriptive, always gripping accounts of the course of the war I can’t say – perhaps it’s both. MacManus writes succinctly but with feeling, sweeping the reader up into the story with details, yet the descriptions are not too heavily weighed down. As a reader, I found that my attention was comfortably divided between Harry’s relationship with Leonora and his attempts to realize the visions of two of history’s most iconic figures. I never wanted to be anywhere else in the book but in the present scene, which, given the expanse of the story, is undoubtedly a testament to MacManus’s ability to know his reader. It all wrapped up in an ending that was both touching and unexpected, bringing to a beautiful close a well-achieved and memorable story of love and hope in a world at war.