Poor Buckingham, in my work in progress! Things are going from bad to worse with him. While he’s busy, here’s some reviews I did from the November 2008 issue of Historical Novels Review:
The Black Tower
Louis Bayard, William Morrow, 2008, $24.95/C$26.95, hb, 9780061173509
In 1818, a street beggar follows Hector Carpentier to his home in the Latin Quarter, only to transform himself into Vidocq, Paris’s master detective. What does Vidocq want with Hector, whose life with his drab mother, a trio of loutish student lodgers, and an elderly boarder is a model of law-abiding obscurity? The answer puts Vidocq and the reluctant Hector on the trail of a lost prince—Marie Antoinette’s young son Louis-Charles, supposed to have died in captivity during the Revolution. Along the way, Hector will learn some startling truths about his family and acquaintances—and about himself—all while trying to evade the men who suddenly want him dead.
This was my first go at reading a novel by Bayard, and won’t be my last. Bayard’s writing is exceptionally good, clever yet unpretentious, with wonderful turns of phrase that made me go back and re-read passages for the sheer enjoyment of it. The characters drawn from real life (including Vidocq himself) are vivid, as are fictitious ones like Hector (the narrator) and his motley companions. Even the minor characters are sharply rendered. Best of all, perhaps, is the manner in which Bayard portrays the plight of young Louis-Charles, with a self-assured combination of anger, compassion, and wit that is moving yet never maudlin.
Thanks to these qualities, readers of historical fiction, literary fiction, and mystery should all thoroughly enjoy this novel.
Nancy Moser, Bethany House, 2008, $13.99 pb, 414 pp, 9780764205002
In the summer of 1757, Martha Custis, a young widow with valuable landholdings in Virginia, has no shortage of eligible suitors from which to choose. It is Colonel George Washington, however, who soon claims her affection—and who will hold it for the rest of the couple’s long, eventful marriage.
Having known very little about Martha Washington, who narrates this novel, I found her story an absorbing one. As portrayed by Moser, the first woman to hold the title of First Lady was a shrewd businesswoman, a devoted and somewhat overindulgent mother, and a loving but by no means mindlessly obedient wife, whose support was essential to her husband’s success as a general and later as President. Moser tells her story with a palpable admiration for her subject and with occasional flashes of humor.
After reading this, I was interested enough in the historical Martha Washington to seek out a biography of her—always a high compliment to a novelist’s skill.
Deep in the Heart of Trouble
Deeanne Gist, Bethany House, 2008, $13.99 pb, 395pp, 9780764202261
In this sequel to Courting Trouble, set in 1898 Corsicana, Texas, Essie Spreckelmeyer, well into her thirties, is no longer hunting a husband. Instead, she’s devoting herself to Sullivan Oil, which she and her father own, and to the Corsicana Velocipede Club. Then Tony Morgan, the disinherited son of the owner of Morgan Oil, comes to Corsicana under an assumed name, determined to learn the oil business from the bottom. He is not counting on becoming romantically involved with a “bloomer gal” like the independent-minded Essie, who for her own part is none too happy with Sullivan Oil’s new employee.
Like its predecessor, Deep in the Heart of Trouble is well-written with believable, sympathetic characters, including Mrs. Lockhart, who uses her extensive library of romance novels to give Tony hints on courting Essie. There’s plenty of humor here, and even a mystery. Both old acquaintances of Essie and new ones should heartily enjoy this novel.
An Uncertain Dream
Judith Miller, Bethany House, 2008, $13.99 pb, 376pp, 9780764202780
In the third novel of Miller’s Postcards from Pullman series, Pullman, Illinois, is in turmoil in 1894 as its railway workers go on strike. Olivia Mott, assistant chef at the Hotel Florence, finds herself caught up in the middle of events, especially since the man she loves, Fred DeVault, is among the strikers. Meanwhile, Olivia’s friend Lady Charlotte, who had gone to live with her parents in England, travels back to America with her out-of-wedlock son after her father dies, leaving his family heavily in debt.
The last in the series, An Uncertain Dream, like its predecessors, is a realistic look at the company town of Pullman and the toll that its labor unrest takes on its citizens, including Olivia and her friends. Miller offers no pat or easy solutions to the dilemmas facing her characters, but ends her series on a hopeful note. This was a worthy ending to a well-researched and well-written trio of novels.