This novel has everything a nerdy teenager could want: melodrama, love triangles, Nazis, sabotage, and large explosions.
Hindenburg 1937, Cameron Dokey, 1999. (And check out this cover: how’s that for your soft-focus love-triangle drama?)
Cameron Dokey was the author of those atrocious Hearts and Dreams books, and this one is very similar in tone. However, it is far more exciting and has significantly less sturm und drang about being “misunderstood,” though. It’s part of a “series” that are really just loosely connected books, the first one being that god-awful Louisiana Hurricane book from a few weeks ago, the next one being about an avalanche in Colorado, and there’s also a Chicago Fire one I have not been able to lay my hands on, more’s the pity.
Anyway, our protagonist Anna opens the book at the bedside of her dying and beloved grandfather. She fills the time by his bedside contemplating what a dickhole her older brother Kurt has become ever since joining the army (to be clear, Germany’s army in 1937) and getting on her case about not being an example to the Fatherland. We don’t have to dwell too much on Kurt’s character here (Cameron Dokey clearly didn’t), you can pretty much imagine your “stock Nazi asshole” character here and it’ll be basically the same thing.
Apparently, Anna’s grandfather was perfectly fine earlier the previous day until he got a telegram with some terrible news, upon which he fell into some kind of awful stupor, burned the telegram, and collapsed into bed near death. (None of this is very clear, so let’s go with “shock.”) That night, he stirs briefly and asks “Anna, promise me,” and scrabbles about in his papers for Anna’s ticket on the Hindenburg. They had been planning a trip on the Hindenburg to America just before he died, and Kurt did Not Approve of this plan. Anna interprets this promise as “Be sure to go on this trip, no matter what your asshole brother says,” and when Kurt arrives he tells her this is a stupid plan and also, she is stupid.
Kurt tells Anna that instead of going to America, she is going to accompany him to Berlin and live with the daughter of his commanding officer so he can pick a decent Nazi husband for her. Because this is a crappy and also insulting plan, Anna comes up with a scheme to get away—she has a telegram sent to her brother saying he is needed urgently in Berlin, then slips away to the Hindenburg before he can notice she’s gone in all the hubbub.
Unfortunately, Anna is going to attract a lot of attention traveling alone, as she notices while standing around with all the other couples and families waiting to board the zeppelin. She spots a young man hopping up and down after someone drops a suitcase on his foot, and decides to take a gamble on him. She rushes over to him, declares she can’t leave him alone for even a minute without him getting into trouble, and is immediately blown away by his “dangerous, glorious, alluring eyes,” which are deep green with, apparently, a band of gold. They banter a bit about who can’t leave who alone, and then someone recognizes Anna—Karl Mueller, “the man she’d once thought she’d love forever.” Page 36, love triangle!
We get a little backstory, and apparently Karl is the grandson of Anna’s grandfather’s best friend, and they spent a delightful autumn together the last year. They were in love, and then Karl up and told Anna he had to leave, and she took this very poorly indeed. They haven’t seen each other since, and now they are on very dicey terms. But Anna gets on the Hindenburg without any further issues, and they take off.
Anna befriends an older woman, Frau Friederickson (god, did it have to be a name with a million letters?), who is going to function as Anna’s conscience for the duration of the book. They bond and eat dinner together, and then Dangerous Green Eyes stops by to introduce himself again as Erik Peterson. As they are drinking coffee, the captain comes by with Karl at his side, and Erik cleverly insinuates that Karl may be a Nazi spy. Anna freaks right out, but…it’s not entirely clear as to why. For starters, she’s very gullible if she’s willing to believe everything Erik says, and secondly, so what? I know that the theory here is “he’s a Nazi and therefore he’s terrible,” but Anna isn’t Jewish or a political dissident or a threatened class by any stretch of the imagination, so I don’t know what she’s so frantically worried about. But Anna thinks this makes perfect sense as to why he fell in love with her so quickly and then departed just as quickly (what?), so maybe Anna isn’t the brightest bulb in Berlin.
Anna flees and Erik comes after her trying to figure out what her problem is, and she tells him all about her plan to run away from home. He offers to escort her the rest of the way to America on a “voyage of discovery,” which sounds creepy as hell. I am not feeling good about Erik. But the next morning Karl snags her on the way to breakfast and steers her over to a private room. Kurt has sent a telegram to the ship saying that Anna has run away and he wants her to be returned just as soon as they land, and Anna freaks out again. Karl tells her that he won’t do it if she can provide him with “a certain service,” and if she does, he will make sure that she’s gone somewhere in America where Kurt will never find her. Karl wants her to spy on Erik Peterson. Dun dun dun. But she agrees, then slaps him, then leaves.
Her new plan is to make Karl exceedingly jealous of all the time she gets to spend with Erik, who has arranged a tour of the ship for her. I have to say that this book makes travel by zeppelin seem very appealing in a sort of pre-war elegance way—all the fun of tiny doll-like cabins and elegant meals served in a dining room with none of the nonsense of seasickness. I mean, the downside is of course the possibility of dying horribly in a fiery conflagration, but it sure seems pleasant in the meantime.
Anyway, Karl accompanies them on this tour, and there’s all this hullabaloo about how they can have nothing that causes sparks or any metal at all, and Anna points out that there’s a smoking room which is clearly lunacy, and Karl is all “well of course it’s safe, we use special electric lighters without a spark!” which seems to negate the fact that you are sucking on a burning stick, but hey, I am not a Hindenburg engineer. On their way back, Anna slips and Karl grabs her, only to fall himself into the enormous belly of the ship, and Anna freaks out again briefly and Erik rolls his eyes at her before reassuring her it’s clearly so super-duper safe that nothing could possibly go wrong. Erik is kind of a douche and I’m going to be really irritated if he turns out to be the good guy.
That evening in the lounge Erik and Anna dance together and make out for a bit, which Karl is violently jealous of. Later he corners her and asks why she didn’t monitor Erik all afternoon, and then suddenly kisses Anna and there’s some turgid prose about “a kiss to die and be reborn in.” Oh my. Anna freaks out about this as well (she does this a lot) and then bolts back into her room.
The following day she is creeping around the ship and overhears Erik speaking to a crewmember, saying something about how tight security is. Anna is convinced there must be a reasonable explanation for it, but goes off to tell Karl anyway, but can’t find him anywhere. Then she’s cornered by Erik, who shadows her all day—playing cards, having lunch, generally being a nuisance. When she finally gets to be alone in the library, Erik comes in to find her there too, and shepherds her away when Karl comes in. When after dinner she finally manages to run into Karl, he blames her for not being proactive and Anna doesn’t tell him anything. I do not blame her, every man in this book seems to act like a huge jerk.
That evening Anna confesses everything to Frau Friedrickson, who tells her that she’s smart and she’ll figure it out somehow (how helpful), and the next morning they’re due to arrive in New York anyway. But they’re late and Anna has some extra time to finagle a meeting with Karl, and apologizes for her conduct. Karl tells her that he loves her and never meant to leave her (!!!), but had to do it to protect her. Apparently he is not a Nazi spy at all, but a spy (“spy”) for the Zeppelin Company, to keep an eye on the ship from any would-be saboteurs. He says he wasn’t allowed to tell anyone what he did, and that’s why he had to leave so suddenly (although it does not explain why he’s been treating Anna like crap this whole time). And then we find out that Karl telegrammed Anna’s grandfather telling them not to come! What? I guess he was so…shocked…by the news that the Hindenburg might be sabotaged that he just…died?
Anna spills the beans on how she saw Erik talking to a crewmember after she figures out that Erik has been the one this whole time telling her that Karl’s a Nazi spy, etc., and Karl tells her that it’s too late, they’ve already landed safely. But then Erik comes up behind them! It’s not too late! That the Hindenburg, that symbol of the Third Reich, must be destroyed to show that the Nazis are not invincible! (I have to say that this “plan” seems to be half-baked at best.) Erik and Karl fight and just as they’re grappling, whatever device Erik planted goes off and the whole airship explodes.
Erik tosses Karl back into the flames, then breaks a window and hurls Anna out of it (!) and steps back into the flames himself. Anna plummets to the ground and crawls to safety, badly burned, but recognizes too late that she really loved Karl this whole time.
She spends the next few days in the hospital with Karl, watching him die. Really. They confess their love for each other, and then he dies. Then in the warehouse with the coffins of everyone who’s died—Karl, Erik, Anna’s friend Frau Friedrickson, while Anna is observing all the coffins, a man comes to speak with her—one of the men in the ground crew who put her burning hair out. He tells her that he had a son about Karl’s age who disappeared, and they had been family friends. Karl had telegrammed him asking that he be sure no one took Anna back to Germany, and the man had agreed. Anna agrees to go with him, not to return to Germany, and go wherever they take her. The end
Rating: D. Wow, this was bad. I mean, not good at all. I won’t give it a failing mark because it was, you know, competently written and wasn’t atrociously racist or anything, but sheesh. For the protagonist, Anna was not a very well-developed character and spent most of the book lurching from shocking discovery (!) to shocking discovery. Karl is a terrible love interest and kind of a jerk, and Erik is, of course, the villain of the whole thing. The plot is also paper-thin for all the idea of sabotage is interesting, and the love triangle is only interesting in that most 17-year-old girls would like the idea of two dashing young men dancing attention on her and traveling alone and in luxury. So wow. No. Not a good one.