Reviewed by C.J. Darlington
Glimpses of Paradise by James Scott
"Glimpses of Paradise has it all. War. Romance. Suspense. History. Overall, it's an extremely satisfying read from one of fiction's masters. "
Zenith, Nebraska. June 1916. A postage stamp costs two cents. Woodrow Wilson is President. The Great War looms in Europe. And the lives of two young people are about to change forever.
Doyle Lawrence is 17 years old, his life already mapped out for him: attend Princeton, learn to be a gentleman, then join his wealthy father's law practice. "And the Miller girl," the elder Lawrence admonishes Doyle one evening, "is not someone you should be seen with."
Zee Miller's father is a strict Baptist preacher whose belief in the evil of motion pictures butts heads with Zee's burning desire to become an actress. When her father finds her copy of Picture Progress, the magazine published by Paramount Studios, he forbids her to read the material or to entertain her foolish notions one moment longer. But the acting bug has bitten Zee harder than her father imagines, and life in small-town Zenith soon becomes a strangling chain around young Zee's neck. "When Joan of Arc was tied to the stake, Zee saw herself in that role. Not only that, she saw herself as Joan of Zenith. She would burn up here into ashes."
At the end-of-the-year high school dance, Doyle asks Zee to marry him, but Zee refuses. Not because she doesn't love Doyle. She does. But she doesn't want to hold him back, and she can't give up her Hollywood dream either--the dream no one else, not even Doyle, believes in. Someday, she will show the world.
When the U.S. declares war on Germany, Doyle drops out of Princeton to enlist and is soon shipped off to Europe. He returns home months later no longer a boy on the verge of great things. He's a broken man whose innocence died on the battlefield. Zee's innocence has also died, but in a different kind of battle. They both eventually find themselves in the City of Angels, each unaware of the other. She's in L.A. to become a movie star, Doyle simply to survive. How far will Zee go in her quest for stardom? Will she find a way to redeem her life even as Doyle falls in love with her best friend?
I don't normally read historical novels, but Glimpses of Paradise held my interest on every page. The scenes clip along at break-neck speed, and historical facts are seamlessly entwined into the story. It's hard to guess who's a real historic figure and who's fictional; they all feel real. With its speakeasies, thugs, and ruthless opportunists who try to ruin Doyle and his friends, Roaring 20s Los Angeles stands up and breathes in this story.
For those familiar with James Scott Bell's contemporary legal thrillers, don't think he's ditched his signature courtroom drama in this one. There's plenty of legal action, it just doesn't take center stage until later in the novel when Zee is accused of murder. Readers of Jim's previous historical series will also be pleasantly surprised at the re-appearance of beloved character Kit Shannon (one of Jim's personal favorites), who plays a small but satisfying role in Glimpses of Paradise.
Particularly intriguing is the inclusion of real historical figure R.A. Torrey, an evangelist who won his first convert after hearing Dwight L. Moody preach in 1878. Slower scenes in Torrey's point-of-view are interspersed throughout the book, detailing his struggle to defend his Christian beliefs against the watered down theology of his day, and it's Torrey's influence that first challenges Doyle's notions about the things of God.
Glimpses of Paradise has it all. War. Romance. Suspense. History. Overall, it's an extremely satisfying read from one of fiction's masters.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.