In One Hot January, Joe January, an emotionally aloof private investigator from the South Bronx, uncovers a seemingly impossible plot of time travel and alternate realities by grudgingly agreeing to help a pretty young woman locate her missing father, a Professor of Archeology from Columbia College, who must prevent the secret location of Hitler’s body from falling into the wrong hands.
January’s story is anything but just a story, despite spanning two centuries. The denouement is less than happily ever after, and January at times comes across as a sort of comic book superhero. But in youth we often view ourselves as invincible, only later seeing the global repercussions of our actions. Yet given the chance to live life over again, how many would turn their back? Hence the meat of January’s story is largely about regret: how, through his own foolishness, he lost the two women who meant the most to him. Set against the backdrop of an alternate reality in which Germany won World War II, January’s tale is compelling, and I couldn’t be more pleased he chose me to tell it. I think I’ve managed to remain true to his story as well as his voice.
I read the carefully hand-lettered words on the tile in front of me:
Pilots With Short Exhaust Stacks and Low Manifold Pressure Please Taxi Close
Grinning, I looked to my left to observe my good friend and, unknown to me, future business associate, Lance Cantrell. Lance’s head was tilted back and his eyes were closed; my grin broadened.
From which of the aforementioned maladies do you suffer, Lance? I wondered and then grunted my amusement of the notion that he might just endure both.
“What?” Lance asked, his eyes fluttering open.
“Nothing.” I knew the innocence of my reply would serve to provoke.
“I know that laugh, Joe. That was not a nothing laugh.”
“Forget it.” I zipped my trousers and stepped over to the washbasin.
“It’s not good to laugh a nothing laugh while standing next to someone in the men’s room. It can give a guy a complex.”
“You, a complex? You’re a war hero. War heroes don’t have complexes.”
“War heroes especially have complexes,” Lance said, joining me at the sink.
“Especially when they come home to find their best girl is now someone else’s best girl.”
“Women are fickle like that,” I said, shutting off the water.
“I would have waited for her.”
“You don’t know that. And you don’t know what it’s like to have to wait.”
“What, for the bullet that never came?” I asked, drying my hands.
“That’s different, Lance.”
“How is it any different?”
I looked squarely at Lance, a decorated bomber pilot whom I hadn’t seen for nearly six years. Short but powerfully built, Lance had been a high school football star and heartthrob. The wavy blond hair of his youth was now cropped to regulation length beneath his Air Force cap, and behind the blue eyes that had, six years ago, betrayed youthful cockiness there now resided an especial worldliness tinged with a healthy dose of weariness. No doubt the war had left its indelible mark on Lance. In ways that I—because I’d turned thirty a year before the country entered the war, along with a high draw in the lottery, and therefore missed serving a tour of duty—could only speculate. But there was something else in his demeanor as well. It took me a moment to recognize it for what it was: resentment.
“How is it any different?” Lance demanded a second time, daring me to put what he was feeling into perspective for him.
“You were waiting for something that wouldn’t have made any difference to you, because had it come you wouldn’t have known. On the other hand, she would’ve had to live with the result for the rest of her life.”
“So she found comfort elsewhere.”
I could only shrug, and I immediately regretted the nonchalance of my gesture.
“She must not have loved you.”
“That’s supposed to make me feel better?”
“You want me to sugar-coat it for you?” I didn’t understand Lance’s angst over a creature that could be found in any bar and had for the price of a couple drinks.
“I want the last six years of my life back!”
There was nothing I could say to appease Lance’s pain.
“It’s not fair,” he whispered because it wasn’t, and because it wasn’t there was nothing else he could say. The statement sounded like a plea: a child bemoaning the iniquity of having been cheated at a game of checkers by an older sibling.
“Who says it’s supposed to be?” I said.
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“I guess not.” I was glad that I didn’t.
“Look, Lance, very little of anything that happens to us in life—good, bad or indifferent—has anything to do with fairness.”
“She couldn’t wait six years?”
Lance’s eyes lay bare a pain upon which I could only wonder.
Six years, I reflected.
Six years ago tears might’ve helped to ease Lance’s grief. Apparently the war had robbed him of that release.
No matter, I reasoned. He’ll get over her.
I’d never met a woman worth bleeding over. Just the same, I figured I’d do well to introduce Lance to one or two of the women I’d helped through their own grief, the result of the male mass exodus the war had propagated.
“Maybe she didn’t want to wait,” I said.
Glancing at the mirror’s image of myself, I gave a casual tug on the leading edge of the fedora that sat atop my head and said, “Come on, Lance.” Then, putting my arm around my pal’s shoulders, I added, “Let’s get your bags and get you home. You’ll feel better once you get out of uniform.”
Lance said nothing as he allowed me to steer him out of the men’s room and toward baggage claim.
Rachael Perry, author of How to Fly
Joe January may be a man out-of-time—Bogart-cool and clever, sharp-tongued and fedoraed—but underneath the veneer he reveals himself both in his vulnerability and the most ageless adventure of all: a journey of the heart.
Failing to enter World War II in time to help the Allies defeat the advancing German forces, the U.S. tragically allows Hitler’s brutal empire to rise and rule the world. After years of oppression and systematic genocide, a rebellious faction of Hitler detractors hatches a plot to go back in time and alter the course of future history. Their main objective? To draw the U.S. into WWII, thereby aborting Hitler’s sinister plans before they even have the chance to be born. The unlikely key to their success? Joe January, a fast-talking private investigator who stumbles upon the plot while in the process of tracking down a missing Archeology professor who holds a potentially earth-shattering secret ...
One Hot January is nothing if not intriguing. In his thought-provoking tale of speculative fiction, author J. Conrad Guest skillfully combines dramatic fiction with historical fact to present a winding, suspense-filled mystery thriller. Driving the story along is the unflappable Joe January, who—despite finding himself thrust in the midst of a time-traveling conspiracy theory come to vivid life—remains the quintessential cool, sardonic hard ass with a heart of gold. As such, his unique energy alone is sure to captivate the reader’s interest as Guest unfolds his action-packed tale at a steady, compelling pace—all the way up to the bombshell surprise ending. A dynamic, highly recommended instant classic.