A Short Time to Stay Here
In 1918, the little town of Hot Springs, North Carolina, held the largest World War I internment camp in the United States. More than 2,000 German inmates, mostly crew members from commercial ships stranded in American ports, were housed in and around the Mountain Park Hotel. Frequent contacts between the locals and German internees led to friendships that outlasted the war.
With history as inspiration, Roberts has written a fascinating mystery around a mostly fictional cast of characters, headed by the fictional resident manager of the Mountain Park Hotel, Stephen Robbins. Robbins makes a sympathetic narrator. He is a flawed but conscientious man who treats inmates as individuals and tries to make the camp a decent place to live out the war.
Most of Robbins’s problems come from a different quarter. He has a running feud with the hotel owner’s son, having recently lost the man who was his mentor; his job is at risk. He falls for a prickly woman, a Yankee in town to make a documentary; the relationship could sour at any time. And Robbins has a history; he’s fighting a drinking problem.
When a murder takes place, the guilty party could be an inmate, an outside German agitator, or a local hillbilly — and Robbins could be the only one who wants to know the truth. When his conscience won’t let him take the easy way out, Robbins risks everything to make sure the wrong man doesn’t go to the electric chair.
A Short Time to Stay Here reminds us that some worked successfully in a multicultural environment before the term existed. And that the impact of foreigners on an insular community, even in wartime, wasn’t all bad. Highly recommended.