Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 256 Pages
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
A Superb Historical Mystery
Calling herself Geraldine Burton, she has fled both the East and her past and has come to Denver in the hopes of securing for herself some nominal existence. Finding work is as imperative as it is difficult, for she has limited funds and no training or experience in the sort of positions available to women in 1919. Still, she applies for a position as a companion to one Emmaline Stubbs and thinks herself lucky to have been granted the job.
Geraldine will quickly be disabused of that notion once settled into that great house of secrets and suspicion.
The irascible and incorrigible Emmaline Stubbs, well into her dotage yet pugnacious with it, makes Geraldine's life challenging enough, but it is the rest of the household that provides the source of most of the unease. Then Emmaline is poisoned and the maid is killed, and suddenly Geraldine, on the run from a past of horrors and nightmares few could comprehend, is in danger of being accused of crimes for which that past may very well condemn her.
If it doesn't kill her first.
Every once in awhile I like to read something outside my romance-rich norm and there was something about the combination of book blurb and cover that drew me to this one. It's historical, but of an era I have almost no experience with, and it's a mystery with a female protagonist. The combination intrigued me. I'm so glad it did, because I thought this was truly superlative fiction.
I was captivated from the first sentence of the book, where we meet the woman who calls herself Geraldine. Her own past is a mystery - one obviously full of tragedy. She's on the run from that past and she's starting to get desperate for work. Though readers know little more than that about her at first, not even her name, I found her absolutely compelling as the narrator for the story.
The house in which she gets work, as well as Emmaline Stubbs, her employer, frame the first part of the story and set the foundation surrounding an impressively authentic glimpse of life in 1919 Denver. It was a genuine treat to read on every level, as everything from dialogue to description painted a picture that felt so real and believable that I felt like I had parted a curtain and looked into that past as it was happening. I can only assume that Patterson did extensive research on the era, and that work, combined with her crisp, engaging writing style, created a feast of detail and information that impressed me and held my attention.
By the time the threads of mystery started to form, and elements of Geraldine's past started to become more clear, I was thoroughly absorbed. I loved Geraldine, for all her strength and her straightforward manner, as well as every ounce of her vulnerability. Bright and no-nonsense, I found her unassuming and lacking in all pretensions. She was a woman of her time, but one who had survived things no one should have to survive, and it gave her a solid presence that was unadorned, frank, and steady. I can't imagine a better protagonist for this book.
Emmaline was, not surprisingly, a total firecracker. Nouveau riche in a way that only a successful miner's wife could be in the west, she was crass, unsophisticated, and tough as old leather. I loved her. She was a constant source of amusement and consternation throughout the book, and her presence on the page was legendary.
The combination of the more gently born Geraldine and the tough old crone Emmaline was simply brilliant.
Though I felt the mystery was a little slow to develop once Geraldine was settled in her position - my only issue with the book - once the suspense and threat-level started to rise, the book moved quickly and packed a hell of a visceral punch in places. I wouldn't say it was the best mystery ever. There were elements that, perhaps, were a bit predictable, but that was mostly because of the situation and the characters involved. What was exceptional, though, was the way in which the pieces were assembled and the final picture once complete.
There is no romance in the book, but there were several heartening moments where Geraldine finds she has made true friends, and seeing those friends in action were some of my favorite parts of the book. They provided the means for some warm and emotional moments, as well as showcasing the growth of Geraldine as a character throughout the story.
So many elements came together so well in this book. As historical fiction, it's authentic and detailed, well-researched and intelligent. As a mystery, it's full of twists and turns, surprises and horrors, tragedies and triumphs. As a book, it's simply an exceptionally good read that I liked very, very much. I can't ask for any more than that.