Jeffrey Stepakoff's The Melody of Secrets is an epic love story set against the 1960s U.S. space program, when deeply-buried secrets could threaten not just a marriage, but a country.
Maria was barely eighteen as WWII was coming to its explosive end. A brilliant violinist, she tried to comfort herself with the Sibelius Concerto as American bombs rained down. James Cooper wasn't much older. A roguish fighter pilot stationed in London, he was shot down during a daring night raid and sought shelter in Maria's cottage.
Fifteen years later, in Huntsville, Alabama, Maria is married to a German rocket scientist who works for the burgeoning U.S. space program. Her life in the South is at peace, purposefully distanced from her past. Everything is as it should be—until James Cooper walks back into it.
Pulled from the desert airfield where he was testing planes no sane Air Force pilot would touch, and drinking a bit too much, Cooper is offered the chance to work for the government, and move himself to the front of the line for the astronaut program. He soon realizes that his job is to report not only on the rocket engines but also on the scientists developing them. Then Cooper learns secrets that could shatter Maria's world...
Readers who find suspending disbelief an uphill slog will be more than challenged by this melodramatic story from Stepakoff (The Orchard) about Maria, a German woman building a new life after WWII. In March 1945, Maria, then a teenager who is working as a music teacher, has a brief but meaningful encounter with an American soldier, James Cooper, whose parachute lands close to her cottage, near the town of Nordhausen. But they don't see each other again until 1957. Maria is now living in Huntsville, Ala., married to "solid... dependable" Hans Reinhardt, a German scientist aiding the U.S. in its arms race against the Soviets. Maria's violin performances for the local musical society have made her a local celebrity. Cooper, now a test pilot for the Air Force, ends up being stationed in Huntsville as well, and the pair considers picking up where they left off. Maria's music attracts the attention of someone even more gifted on the instrument a precocious young African-American girl leading to a manipulative subplot. The leaden prose does nothing to help this novel reach the pathos for which it aims.