My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’m a huge fan of period pieces, especially if the author does a superb job of transporting the reader back to a simpler time. I’m not really a thriller reader, so I had never even thought to read Sandra Brown before. It was a recommended novel on a Kindle list so I picked it up one day a few weeks ago.
From page one, I was engrossed in the story. We follow Ella through her everyday life as the owner of a boarding house, preparing breakfast and daily meals, cleaning, being a general companion to her boarders, her maid and right hand woman Margaret and her son, Solly. Solly is a special needs child, living in a time when doctors were just beginning to discover autism and not treat it like a mental illness. Ella rails against putting Solly in an Institution, away from her, where he’ll be locked up like a criminal. He’d live a much better life, albeit limited, by her side.
Enter one David Rainwater, a relative of the local Physician. He needs a room and Ella has one. He’s calm and disarming, polite and charming, especially to the two old ladies -sisters- who also board at Ella’s. Something about him both sets Ella off guard and intrigues her. The comfort she feels around him makes her uncomfortable, and his almost immediate rapport with Sully is both heartwarming and embarrassing. Mr Rainwater is able to accomplish so much in such a short time, more than Ella had tried or had time to accomplish in the entire time he was alive.
This would make a lovely romance, were it not for the backdrop of the time period– times were hard and work was even harder to come by. Blacks found work where they could but endured constant harassment and racist activity– mysterious fires are set and city leaders are murdered and no one investigates. The poor and indigent are left to fend for themselves on the edge of town, a place called Shantytown. Any effort made to assist Shantytown are met with disdain and concerted efforts to feed the hungry, especially the children are violently opposed.
Against Ella’s warning and his better judgment, Mr Rainwater gets involved in the world around him, cruel as it may be. He takes chances no one in their right mind should be willing to take– and perhaps that is fitting because Mr Rainwater may very well not be in his right mind. David is very ill, and has a limited life span. Every day holds meaning and power for him. Every day is special. Every person he chooses to spend his time with are the last people he will spend his life with. He chooses Ella, and Solly, and the sisters and Margaret. He chooses to make a difference, because he’s got absolutely nothing to lose.
I have to say, I haven’t read a good period piece since, well, Pride and Prejudice of course, but Lavyrle Spencer wrote the most lovely romantic pieces set in the early 1900’s. Loved them. This story is reminiscent of those. I found myself trapped back in that time, with my head in this book (or in the kindle), frantically flipping pages, trying to find out what happens next.
If I have one complaint, it’s the ending. It does seem to tie everything up with a big bow, but it’s so rushed and… convenient. The ending doesn’t mesh well but the rest of the book is poignant, has a great balance between action and introspection, love and war. The characters and setting are so well depicted, I can see them in my mind. If this is a genre that Sandra Brown is willing to write in, I am willing to read it!