Eagle & Crane by Suzanne Rindell

Those magnificent men in their flying machine…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Earl Shaw wins two small planes in a poker game, he decides to put his skills as a showman to good use by taking the planes barnstorming round Depression-era California, tempting customers to go up for a scenic flight. One day, the pilots take up two young men, Louis Thorn and Harry Yamada. Daredevil Harry decides he will walk along the wing, and Louis, feeling challenged and a little humiliated, follows suit. Earl offers them both jobs as aerial stuntmen and so the act of Eagle & Crane is born – Eagle to represent the good ol’ US of A, and Crane to represent the villainous and untrustworthy Japs of Harry’s heritage. But the war is about to begin, and suddenly white America will begin to see its Japanese-heritage fellow citizens as more than a comic-book threat. And Harry and Louis will find their friendship altered and strained…

Suzanne Rindell has rapidly become one of my most highly anticipated must-read authors. This is only her third book, after The Other Typist and Three-Martini Lunch – both excellent. But she’s still improving with each book, and the joy is that each time she comes up with an entirely different and fascinating setting and story. I had mentioned in my reviews of both her earlier books that she sometimes gets so involved in creating an authentic setting that the descriptions can become overly long, creating a bit of drag in the mid-section. Not here! She achieves a pretty much perfect balance between scene-setting and plot, so that the pacing is steady and the forward momentum is maintained beautifully.

The book begins with FBI Agent Bonner showing up at the Yamadas’ farm looking for Harry and his father, who have apparently escaped from one of the Relocation Centers (concentration camps) to which people of Japanese heritage were sent following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. From here, we are taken back to the past to learn how Harry and Louis befriended each other as children, across a racial divide and a family feud. We follow them as they develop into Eagle & Crane, seeing how their very different backgrounds (different in not quite the way you may be thinking – Rindell doesn’t do clichés) have made them the men they have become. We see how Depression and war affect California, and our young heroes in particular. And we get to know Ava, Earl’s step-daughter, who travels with the barnstormers and forms a firm friendship with both boys, gradually complicated by the growth of romantic attraction. Every now and then we flash back to the present of 1943 (the only part of the book written in present tense), where slowly Agent Bonner discovers what has happened to Harry and his father, and lets us see too how the other characters have fared.

It’s a slow-paced book that takes an in-depth look at the impact of the internment of Japanese-Americans. While it has some elements of the thriller, it definitely falls far more into the category of literary fiction for me. Rindell’s research is skilfully fed to us through the development of her characters and her story, so that we gradually get a real feel for rural Californian life and attitudes in this period. She is clearly making a point about the racism underlying the internment policy, but she doesn’t thump the reader with polemical rants. Instead she lets us see through Harry’s eyes – a boy who thought he was American even though he knew he would never be treated in quite the same way as other Americans who looked like Louis rather than him. We also see through Ava’s initially innocent eyes – gradually awakened to an understanding of how thoughtless, low-level racism runs almost unnoticed as a backdrop to every aspect of Harry’s life.

But don’t let me put you off with my usual concentration on the political themes of the book! It also has an excellent story and the characterisation is wonderful. I loved learning all about the stunts the boys do, and about barnstorming in general. I enjoyed watching the careful way Rindell develops the setting, and found it so absorbing that I would find myself looking up after an hour or two, surprised to discover I was in 21st century Scotland rather than Depression-era California. The three major characters gained all my sympathy, even though they’re very different from one another, and I grew to care deeply about the outcome for each of them. And I was equally impressed by the depth Rindell puts into the supporting cast of characters – Agent Bonner, Earl, Ava’s mother, Louis’ family, and most of all the Yamadas as they find their American dream turning into a nightmare.

Suzanne Rindell

If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller, this isn’t it. But if you want a beautifully written and insightful story about a time when political America showed itself at its worst and yet still with love and loyalty and friendship running through the lives of the people affected by it; if you want to be absorbed by the hopes and fears of a set of superbly observed characters; if you want to spend some time in a wonderfully authentic historical setting, then I highly recommend this book to you.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Allison and Busby.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

37 thoughts on “Eagle & Crane by Suzanne Rindell

  1. Well now, I can see why you recommended this one to me. I didn’t buy it to round up my number last week (😉) because I wasn’t quite sure it was for me but now I’m seriously tempted.

  2. I think Rindell has been reading your reviews and taken notes about your comments on her previous books! And quite right too – a writer could do a lot worse 😉 This is a lovely review and sounds like a very good book. I wish her continued success! 😀

    • Hahaha – what a lovely thought! The power!! If only I’d been around when Melville was writing Moby Dick… 😉 She really is a great writer – such a pleasure to look forward to her next book!

      • Hello!!! But I *am* taking notes!!! Writers are very lucky to have any and all feedback come to our attention, and I am constantly seeking to please the people I love best: Readers! All writers are readers first and foremost in their hearts. Thank you so much for reading! You give me the inspiration to want to keep writing. ❤ ❤ ❤

        • How lovely of you to pop in and comment – you’ve made my day! 😀 Well, you’ve pleased this reader mightily with each of your books and I’m looking forward to many more. Here’s to all the success you deserve! 🍾

  3. This sounds absolutely fascinating, FictionFan! What a great premise and context, too, and not one I’d have thought of. And I do like it that there’s a good balance between focus on the plot/characters, and focus on the background. Glad to hear she’s been paying attention to you… 😉

  4. This is a period in history about which I have read a good deal in recent years – definitely going on my list.

  5. This sounds awfully good, FF, and your review is stellar! It’s encouraging to see how good writers improve with each new book (or at least, we hope they do!) Drat, probably ought to fatten up the TBR again.

    • Thanks, Debbie! 😀 I must say she’s turning into a really great writer – the kind of books that say something about the world but always remember the story comes first…

    • Oh, good – I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! She really is a great writer and this is such an interesting story. Aw, thank you! Now my face is smiley too… 😀

  6. I loved this review! Really – no kidding. And I think I’d really like the book. I’ve read this author’s first book and did like that one. Have not read the second. The time period here, war time, California, etc., it’s a time I’m interested in. My father was a WWII veteran and my mother would sometimes talk about her life waiting on him to come home. I’m going to see if my library has this. Thanks!

    • Aw, thank you, Kay! 😀 I liked The Other Typist a lot, and then thought Three-Martini Lunch was even better. Now with this one she’s really got into her stride and I think it’s probably her best to date. And if you’ve already got an interest in that period with your family history, then I suspect you’ll really enjoy it – hope you do, anyway!

    • I know – nothing would make me get out on the wing of a plane. Not even the promise of a date with Darcy! Not even if he was chocolate-coated! I think she’s a great writer and even though I loved The Other Typist I think this one and Three-Martini Lunch are even better…

    • I think you’d like it too – it seems quite an Anne-ish sort of book. Ha – I must admit the idea of doing stunts on a plane gives me the serious heebie-jeebies… 😉

  7. Another book I enjoyed about the WWII Japanese interment camps is called No-No Boy by John Okada. It’s from the perspective of a young man who refused to serve as a soldier amidst his family being packed up and sent to camps. The novel begins when he gets out of jail for refusing to go.

    • Rindell actually mentions the no-no thing in this book. It reminds me of one of our old pretty far right politicians who suggested having the “cricket test” – namely that our Asian immigrants should support England at cricket rather than India or Pakistan, and if not they shouldn’t be allowed to be citizens! Oh yes, we have our own little problems with race too… 😉

      • I know Indian and Pakistani people love cricket, so it’s weird to use team loyalty as a test. I often see the whole football/take a knee thing in the US as a way of showing whether you’re a citizen or an “other.”

        • Yes, there are so many ways of turning people into ‘other’, aren’t there? And the sneaky ones are the worst, because they’re harder to fight against…

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