Last Call: Final Book in Haines' Rosie Winter Series Is a Somber Tale of WWII America, Death, and Suspicion

Issue Date: 
June 7, 2010

Kathryn Miller HainesKathryn Miller Haines

“After being abroad and seeing with my own peepers what war means, I found it hard to believe that we thought we could change the outcome by collecting some tin and having faith that if you were right you would be victorious. It just didn’t work that way.”
Rosie Winter, When Winter Returns

In her fourth and final romp through the back alleys and safe houses of World War II America, Pitt staffer and MFA alumnus Kathryn Miller Haines (A&S ’98G), associate director of Pitt’s Center for American Music, plunges the heroine of her Rosie Winter mystery series into a world far darker than the realm of gangland murders and black-market slaughterhouses Rosie knows so well—her own country, tense, afraid, and war-weary.

Published last month, When Winter Returns (Harper Paperbacks) opens in September 1943 with natural-born citizens hiding their heritages out of fear, political allegiances violently dividing once-cohesive neighborhoods, and the pressures of war igniting race riots in Harlem, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Rosie is back in New York City after her disastrous stint entertaining troops in the South Pacific that was the setting of last year’s Winter in June (Harper).

Haines takes a more somber and reflective turn in her latest book, departing from the usual string of misadventures Rosie has experienced since she stumbled into sleuthing in the first book, The War Against Miss Winter (Harper, 2007). Haines approaches When Winter Returns as a reckoning of the effect that constant death and uncertainty have on Rosie and the people around her. The book earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly and a review in the American Library Association’s Booklist noted, “Haines captures the spirit of the home front in a story that includes murder and sabotage.”

“This book is darker, more personal,” Haines said. “I wanted to explore Rosie as a real person and how she’s changed since the first book. I wondered how much the South Pacific would change an actual person—seeing war upfront, drinking beer with people who are later killed and no longer on this Earth. Rosie experiences this and then comes back home, and people can’t really relate to that. She’s stuck dealing with it on her own,  and it’s changed how she sees everything. As I wrote it, it felt more like a novel than a typical mystery.”

Haines begins with omitting a crucial mystery plot element—a murder. The book instead opens with Rosie discovering that a soldier she met in the South Pacific and who was killed in Winter in June fighting the Japanese—and who was engaged to her best friend-cum-sidekick Jayne Hamilton—was not who he claimed to be. Rosie and Jayne set off to learn his true identity and uncover a culture of fear, suspicion, and tested loyalty in New York’s ethnic enclaves.

Haines was reluctant to thrust Rosie into another murder case, she said, fearing that constantly exposing her character to a new crime would become artificial. Rosie’s no stone-faced detective.

“The series is based on Rosie being a regular girl, and a real person undergoing that much abuse and seeing that much death would be terribly scarred by it,” Haines said. “There would be no way to portray that trauma truthfully and still have the character be consistent. So, the book focuses on uncovering complex lies to discover the victim. Yet his death is not a mystery: He was murdered at the end of the last book by the Japanese. No one person will be punished for it. I wasn’t dealing with a standard murder mystery setup and that made it somewhat difficult to write.”

Haines again takes up her habit—praised by reviewers—of stripping the nostalgia from 1940s America by basing her plot on society’s open distrust of ethnic and racial minorities. In the 1940s, Japanese and, on a smaller scale, German and Italian citizens were interned. Many of those citizens also were declared “enemy aliens,” faced the seizure of personal property and forced relocation inland, and were required to carry an ID card. In When Winter Returns, ill will, suspicion, and shady dealings are no longer just the stuff of gangsters and profiteers—they are societal. As Rosie notes, “We were being taught to hate indiscriminately. All Japanese and Germans were bad. That way, you didn’t have to think before you fired.”

“I’m fascinated by these dark secrets of the World War II era because we think modern times are darker and so much more amoral, but that’s not the case,” Haines said. “In researching this book, I was struck by the parallels between the American home front and our current anxiety about terrorism. We think we’re vulnerable today, but that paranoia is nothing new. I feel that people today often think we’re the first to experience a particular threat or feeling, but that’s not true.”

Even Rosie is not immune to the visceral fear of the strangers about her, as she thinks as she enters Manhattan’s since-vanished German enclave of Yorkville—home of the pro-Nazi German American Bund—on foot: “Suddenly Yorkville didn’t seem so innocuous. It was an infection that threatened to spread to the rest of the city and then far beyond it.”

“Writing in hindsight, I’m inclined to put words in Rosie’s mouth, to put her above that type of thinking,” Haines said. “But I have to think of the world she lives in where there’s suspicion of Germans and no empathy for the Japanese. I drew from memories of the days just after September 11, 2001, when a person in Muslim garb would give us pause for a moment.

“I had to think about that.”

Haines will host two book signings: The first at 7 p.m. June 11 at Mystery Lovers Bookshop, 514 Allegheny River Blvd., Oakmont, and June 27 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in the Southside Works, 2705 E. Carson St., South Side.

More information on Haines and the Rosie Winter series—including book reviews—is available on Haines’ Web site at