Meet Louise Pearlie
It’s 1942, and Louise Pearlie, a young widow, has come to Washington DC to work for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. There she learns that a college friend, a French Jewish woman named Rachel Bloch, is trapped with her family in Vichy France. Unable to trust her colleagues, Louise risks everything, including her life, to help Rachel escape the Nazis. This story fills Louise’s War, the first book in the Louise Pearlie WWII mystery series. There are now six sequels, all set during the wartime years.
Even more challenging to me than the work needed to set a book in the past was discovering just who Louise was as a woman and a person. The early 1940s was a time most of us wouldn’t want to live in. Women were old maids if they didn’t marry by their early twenties. If they wanted a career they were told they couldn’t have that and a home and family, too!
By 1940 the Depression was ten years old, jobs were scarce, and much of what we consider necessities didn’t exist. Imagine living without antibiotics and birth control! “Colored” people were second-class citizens confined to demeaning occupations, married women were subservient to their husbands, and in Europe Hitler had begun his conquests.
Louise, a young widow, lived with her parents in her old bedroom, completely dependent on them, with little hope of escape.
Then the war came and everything changed. The men left town to join the military and Louise got a job.
My boss was a simple man, who tended to say the same things over and over again, in case you didn’t grasp his meaning the first few times. “Louise,” he would say to me, “you ain’t like most women. You know how to keep your mouth shut.” I could have reminded him that the last three people we’d fired for talking to much were men, but I knew how to keep my mouth shut about plenty that had nothing to do with military secrets.
Louise knows how to get along, to conform to what’s expected of her, but deep inside she revels in the independence her paycheck gives her and challenges the prejudices of her time, and she doesn’t hesitate to tell us what she thinks.
Oh, at first Louise thinks she’s just doing her patriotic duty by working for the government, but soon she realizes that she loves her new job and her life in a boardinghouse near Dupont Circle. She lets herself be attracted to Joe, a Czech refugee she knows nothing about. To sympathize with Madeleine, the daughter of the boardinghouse’s colored cook, who’s searching for a job with a future. She has adventures she never dreamed of. Men, including a suave attaché from the French embassy, ask her on dates. She discovers martinis. She goes to a society party and meets Clark Gable. She gets promoted at work. She dreams of having her own apartment and a car.
Louise finds herself growing into the kind of woman who can take on the dangerous job of helping a dear friend escape from the Nazis and ultimately, to bring a killer to justice.
I realized as I wrote this book, after interviewing women who lived through this war, that Louise and women like her were our mothers and grandmothers. What they did for their country, and for women, made us all who we are today. I understand more about myself than I did before meeting Louise, and I hope you will want to meet her, too!