About Dodging and Burning

Mystery writer Bunny Prescott receives an envelope with no return address. It contains a photo of the body of a beautiful murdered woman—a photo Bunny has seen before. Fifty-five years ago, in 1945. Believing that her estranged childhood friend, Ceola, may have mailed it to her, Bunny writes to her: “I remember your last words to me—‘Bunny, you’re a murderer.’ To this day, I believe it. I really do.”

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Alternating between Bunny’s and Ceola’s accounts, the story behind the photo unfolds during the summer of ’45. Jay Greenwood, a wounded war photographer, has returned to Royal Oak, VA, from the front in Belgium. He shows the photo to Bunny, then a twenty-year-old debutant who was madly in love with him, and Ceola, the kid sister of his lover, Robbie, who was MIA in the Pacific. Jay tells the girls that he stumbled on the corpse in the nearby woods. But when he leads them to the scene, it has vanished. They soon discover that a local woman, Lily Vellum, is missing.

The mystery of Lily Vellum casts a spell over young Ceola, echoing the salacious stories in the pulp detective magazines her missing brother read to her before her parents, fearing Robbie’s homosexual tendencies, forced him to enlist “to make a man of him.” The three investigate the murder, setting off a series of events that culminate in violence and tragedy—and decades of estrangement between the two women.

Reunited in old age, Bunny and Ceola confront each other about Jay’s fate and discover that the photo of Lily is the key to a dark secret—a secret that gives them a deeper understanding of the psychological toll the war took on the young men they loved and on themselves.

Advance Praise for Dodging and Burning ...


"On the widest possible level, John Copenhaver’s Dodging and Burning is crime fiction featuring LGBTQ+ themes, however to pigeonhole it as simply that is to vastly under-appreciate this fine novel. Dodging and Burning is a historical novel depicting the coming-of-age of several different characters during a time when their moments of self-discovery clash with the ideologies of the larger community." (Read more.)

—BOLO Books preview

"Dodging and Burning is a beautifully rendered coming of age story, a compelling exploration of a young man’s struggle with his sexual identity amid the evils of war, and an impeccably executed crime novel that keeps you guessing and ultimately strikes a deep and resounding emotional cord."

—Ayelet Waldman, author of Love & Treasure and A Really Good Day

"I'm a big fan of John Copenhaver's elegant work. He's a sophisticated stylist who can break your heart right before he turns devilish. Highly recommended."

—Luis Alberto Urrea, author of Into the Beautiful North and The Water Museum

"John Copenhaver's bold mystery confronts the consequences of love and war with unflinching candor. The characters may twist themselves up in lies, but the writing never does, offering a piercing glimpse into small town taboos. This novel flirts with and ultimately subverts the expectations of pulp fiction to create something wholly original—David Lynch meets Harper Lee while she's having drinks with Truman Capote. Nothing is as expected in this America of the 1940s when men were expected to be men and women were expected to be wives. Dodging and Burning is a memorable, brilliant debut."

—Erica Wright, author of The Red Chameleon and The Granite Moth

"An astonishing piece of writing, Dodging and Burning is a lyrical, compelling and deeply moving book. A highly original and accomplished novel from a significant talent, it captures its period with elegance and simplicity, and a deftness of touch that brings a tear to the eye. The characters are deeply human in their weaknesses, their loves, and the unfolding tragedy of their lives. It is a book of depth and beauty, surely a classic, to be read and re-read. John Copenhaver is a master storyteller, a confident and gifted writer and this, his first novel, is a clever, brilliant, beautiful work. I cannot praise it enough."

—E. S. Thomson, author of Beloved Poison and Dark Asylum

"The level of detail in Copenhaver’s novel Dodging and Burning displays in full measure the demanding research required to uncover the hidden history of a community marginalized and rendered virtually invisible for much of the 20th century."

—Katherine V. Forrest, author of The Kate Delafield Mystery Series

"A photograph of a dead girl prompts some savvy amateur detective work in post-World War II Virginia, but Dodging and Burning ultimately explores deeper mysteries as well: about who we are, who we want to be, and how the bonds of friendship—and of betrayal—can tie people together forever. Copenhaver’s first novel also focuses on storytelling, on the stories we tell others, and ourselves, to survive, all of it brilliantly interwoven, with twists mounting even in the final pages. A superior debut—suspenseful, substantial."  

—Art Taylor, Agatha Award-winning author of On The Road with Del & Louise

"Set in 1945, Dodging and Burning is a striking and important debut illuminating the twin traumas of war and repressed sexual identity. A beautifully rendered literary mystery centered around a missing girl and a WWIII photographer’s journey toward adulthood and self-acceptance, the novel keeps you guessing until the very end."

—Aline Ohanesian, author of Orhan’s Inheritance