Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Join The Coffee Pot Book Club in conversation with #awardwinning author Mary Anna Evans #HistoricalFiction #WWII #AuthorInterview @maryannaevans @cathiedunn

The Traitor Beside Her

The Justine Byrne Historical Mysteries

by Mary Anna Evans

Publication Date: June 6th, 2023
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Pages: 346
Genre: Historical Mystery
Audiobook Narrator: Kimberly M. Wetherell

"Evans's characters are vividly drawn, elevating this story and its revelations about women's little-celebrated contributions to the war effort."

~ Washington Post

"An exciting read with historical tidbits, a hint of danger, and a touch of romance."

~ Kirkus Reviews

The Traitor Beside Her is an intricately plotted WWII espionage novel weaving together mystery, action, friendship, and a hint of romance perfect for fans of The Rose Code and Code Name Helene.

Justine Byrne can't trust the people working beside her. Arlington Hall, a former women's college in Virginia has been taken over by the United States Army where hundreds of men and women work to decode countless pieces of communication coming from the Axis powers.

Justine works among them, handling the most sensitive secrets of World War II—but she isn't there to decipher German codes—she's there to find a traitor.

Justine keeps her guard up and her ears open, confiding only in her best friend, Georgette, a fluent speaker of Choctaw who is training to work as a code talker. Justine tries to befriend each suspect, believing that the key to finding the spy lies not in cryptography but in understanding how code breakers tick. When young women begin to go missing at Arlington Hall, her deadline for unraveling the web of secrets becomes urgent and one thing remains clear: a single secret in enemy hands could end thousands of lives. 

"A fascinating and intelligent WWII home front story."

~ Rhys Bowen, New York Times bestselling author for The Physicists’ Daughter

Welcome to the Coffee Pot Book Club, Mary Anna.

Before we begin, please introduce yourself.

I’m Mary Anna and I’m the author of The Traitor Beside Her, The Physicists’ Daughter, and thirteen Faye Longchamp mysteries. I also do academic research on the work of Agatha Christie. My novels have received recognition including the Oklahoma Book Award, the Will Rogers Medallion Award, and the Benjamin Franklin Award. My Christie scholarship has been nominated for an Edgar, an Agatha, and an HRF Keating Award. I teach fiction and nonfiction writing at the University of Oklahoma, where I get to introduce a new generation to the joys of writing. And I love to read!

Could you tell us a little about your new release, and what inspired you?

The Traitor Beside Her is my second WWII-era novel featuring Justine Byrne. Justine is the daughter of two physicists who brought her up to know and do things that most women in the 1940s didn’t. This means she didn’t quite fit in when she was in high school, but she grew up to be a woman who could look around the munitions factory where she has a Rosie-the-Riveter-style job and see that her work was being sabotaged, and that’s exactly what she did in her first book, The Physicists’ Daughter. In The Traitor Beside Her, the US government has realized how useful somebody like Justine could be as a spy, so she is working undercover with a group of code breakers in Washington, DC. The government knows that one of them is a traitor, and it’s Justine’s job to find out who it is before the spy can reveal secrets that could change the course of the Battle of the Bulge. The fate of the war could rest in her hands.

When researching this era, did you come upon any unexpected surprises in your research?

It was fascinating to read about women who had never expected to be anything but wives and mothers getting on trains and going across the country to do war work. In Washington, DC, particularly, they flooded into the city taking jobs that were critical to the success of the Allies, but the city wasn’t prepared. There was a major shortage of housing and, particularly, there was a shortage of housing that was considered “suitable” for single women. The government responded by building huge women-only dormitory complexes, so that’s where I put Georgette and Justine. I found an article in an architectural magazine about how the dormitories were designed to be comfortable, right down to the modern furniture, cheerful color scheme, and on-site cafeteria. It even had floor plans, which made it convenient when it came time for me to write dramatic chase scenes!

Why do you think this period in history still fascinates readers?

World War II fascinates us for so many reasons. The human toll of momentous historical events like the Holocaust and the attack on Pearl Harbor and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are impossible to grasp, but we feel compelled to try. World War II is within living memory, so there are still people here who can tell us, for example, what they thought when they first heard about the atomic bomb. They can also tell us about the more mundane everyday things like food rationing. The odds are good that if recipes have been handed down through your family for decades, some of them bear traces of the creativity of cooks who had to make do with what they could get. World War II has come to represent the battle between Good and Evil. We’ve been telling stories about that battle since we invented language.

What do you think is the most challenging aspect of writing Historical Fiction set in this era?

As I just said, the 1940s are within living memory. If you’re writing about medieval times, historians and long-time readers of medieval historical fiction and popular nonfiction will notice your mistakes. If you make a mistake when you’re writing about 1944, your grandmother and all her friends will be the ones taking you to task!

Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?

I obviously enjoy my main character, Justine, because I signed up to spend entire books in her head, but her best friend Georgette is the one who turned out to be a special joy. She is so alive and so enthusiastic. She’s so anxious to experience the world that she feels like she has missed by being born poor in a remote place. She wants to travel! She wants to learn algebra! (Well, she wants to learn theoretical physics, but Justine says she has to learn algebra first.) Georgette is only twenty-one and she’s taking on the wide world in big gulps. I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes and what she does next.

What is your current work in progress?

I’m working on a standalone Gothic novel called The Library of Rockfall House. It’s also set in the 1940s, but it’s not an espionage-based thriller. I pitched it as Rebecca-meets-Who’s-Afraid-of-Virginia-Woolf-meets-Dark-Academia. So far, I’m having a heckuva lotta fun writing it.

Thank you for your time, Mary Anna.

You’re welcome!

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Mary Anna Evans

Mary Anna Evans is an award-winning author, a writing professor, and she holds degrees in physics and engineering, a background that, as it turns out, is ideal for writing her Justine Byrne series, which began with The Physicists’ Daughter and continues with her new book, The Traitor Beside Her.  She describes Justine as “a little bit Rosie-the-Riveter and a little bit Bletchley Park codebreaker.”

Mary Anna’s crime fiction has earned recognition that includes two Oklahoma Book Awards, the Will Rogers Medallion Awards Gold Medal, and the Benjamin Franklin Award, and she co-edited the Edgar-nominated Bloomsbury Handbook to Agatha Christie

Connect with Mary Anna:

Website • Twitter • Facebook • Instagram •  BookBub

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