In The Shadow of The Past by J.E. Leak: A Lesbian Historical Novel (Shadow Series Book 1)

“In The Shadow of The Past” by J.E. Leak is a historical lesbian romance and espionage novel set in the 1940’s era featuring two wonderfully strong and complex characters: Katryn and Jenny, just as different as the night is from the day or the sun from the moon, but two things seem to unite them: their love for their country and their attraction for each other.

“In The Shadow of The Past” is Shadow Series Book no.1

The plot rolls like a Bette Davis film noir in my head with eccentric mobsters and their gorgeous mistresses in elegant night clubs involved in complex intrigues and espionage.

I liked the cover of the book, with both main characters dressed according to their era.

The title makes a reference to Katryn’s past and guilt.

The plot is extremely complex, involving unexpected situations and characters, twists and turns at every step, indecisions, confusion, guilt, angst, mystery and also many detailed descriptions of the era, the music, the war, the way the women dressed and behaved, how women were seen and needed just because many men have died in the two World Wars, a.s.o (can also be considered the many themes the book touches).

The romance between Katryn and Jenny is a really slow, slow burn and this book seems to be the foreplay of the next one: “In The Shadow of Love”. So, be warned, this is more of a challenging plot with flawed characters and not just a romance in the making with perfect characters and that makes it really special.

The story starts in 1943 in New York City with Daily Chronicle reporter Jenny Ryan feeling guilty about her father’s death. Then, she suddenly  receives a mysterious phone call and an anonymous caller tells her that the guilty one for it is a well-known industrialist and philanthropist named Marcus Forrester, who proves to be nothing else than a polished mobster with a stunning mistress and strange sexual preferences. In her naiveté, Jenny thinks she can just burst into the exclusive Midtown nightclub called “The Grotto”, where Forrester’s mistress sings and she can “catch him” just like that and make him spill the truth about the death of her father. Just in time she won’t make a fool of herself she is mesmerized by Forrester’s mistress and femme fatale, Katryn, who seduces her shamelessly in the ladies room, but even that doesn’t seem to work well nor make sense to Jenny and she just finds herself thrown out of the club with nothing.

Her uncle Paul runs the Daily Chronicle and he has other ideas for Jenny.

He knows her wild temper will get her into trouble and he hires the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner to the CIA to keep her out of trouble.

Jenny is impulsive, big mouthed, bold, yet innocent and unaware on how the world she lives in works and thus, she gets herself always in trouble.

Katryn Hammond is an OSS secret agent. The Office of Strategic Services was a real wartime organization established in July 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, based on the British intelligence Special Operations Executive (SOE), as the author states in her notes.

For some time, she works undercover as Marcus Forrester’s mistress and a singer at “The Grotto” nightclub. This is a dangerous mission because Marcus is not just a rich industrialist and philanthropist but a real mobster. He has a wife, but he choose Katryn as his mistress. Katryn accepted the mission wherever it may lead her, because she loves her country and her guilt from the past is too big to make her see in which danger she put herself. Thank God for her work partner and friend, her shadow Smitty who gets her out of trouble everytime.

The story from Katryn’s past: she was an oversee agent in France when she got caught by the Nazi’s who forced the truth out of her or at least tried, but she never gave them anything, so they tried other methods to get it from her, more specific a certain horrible method to choose who dies and who lives.

So, now back in the US she wanted to make up for their deaths, by helping the OSS getting to Marcus Forrester and also make light in the Ryan case, as Jenny’s father and grandfather seem to have been involved in secret Nazi biologic bomb plans.

Paul Ryan hired Katryn and Smitty to make Jenny stay away from Marcus Forrester.

But they fail and Katryn seems to be unable to stay away from Jenny for the sole purpose of protecting her to stay away from Marcus.

They go through many up’s and down’s, secrets, intrigues and misunderstandings, but in the end Jenny will be Katryn’s answer.

I found Katryn’s character extremely well written: complex, dark, mysterious, calm, yet she always seems to be on the right path and with her head on her shoulders.  Jenny cannot understand who she is.

That is why her character is so awesome, because the reader understands that she/he needs to read book nr.2 to get to know who Katryn really is and what has made her who she is now.

The Ryan case seems to be closed, but it isn’t by far.

Will Jenny find out who Katryn really is?

Will Katryn be able to win over the demons of her past and tell Jenny the truth?

How long will them take be together?

I loved this book, because of the unique characters, especially the main characters but also the secondary ones like Smitty, Bernie (Jenny’s best friend), Marcus a.s.o and the complexity of the plot and of course, for the historical era the book is set into.

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