Sunday, August 11, 2013

Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden

I've read about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but reading a novel that walks you through it is something totally different.

The novel opens on October 8, 1871. The fire is roaring through the city. Mollie, owner of a fine watch manufacturing company, and Zack, the lawyer with the department store that is the major buyer of her watches, are trying to stay ahead of the flames.

That is the exciting beginning to a well written and well researched novel. The devastation of the fire is overwhelming. People lose everything, yet there are strong relationships formed as hope perseveres. But the goodwill soon evaporates as the danger from crime increases.

Mollie is a tenacious heroine as she works hard to keep the legacy of her father alive by getting the business going again – all against nearly impossible odds. Zack has loved Mollie for years but has kept it hidden. His feelings come out as he protects her and helps her escape the pursuing fire. But their budding romance soon seems doomed by misunderstandings about business dealings. The situation becomes more complex as men from her father's Civil War unit come to help rebuild. One of them, Colonel Lowe developes affection for Mollie too.

I love learning when I read novels and I learned much in this one. Camden has done a great job of taking the reader into the midst of the Chicago fire. I felt the desperation Mollie had to save her equipment. And Camden has done a great job taking us through the aftermath of the fire. We share in the goodwill but then share in the results of the crime that all to quickly follows.

The romance aspect of the novel was well done too. I had no idea who Mollie would pick in the end, although I did have my preference!

In the Historical Note, Camden shares some of the facts about the fire. When the city's waterworks collapsed onto the pumping station below, all hope of saving the city was lost. It is estimated some 330,000 tried to escape the flames. By the next morning around 18,000 buildings had been lost, including all of the central business district. Just like in her novel, the railroads survived, only about 40 percent of the insurance money owed was paid out, and the city was rebuilt with amazing speed.

This is a very well done historical novel. It is entertaining and informative. A good read.

Elizabeth Camden has a master's in history from the University of Virginia and a master's in library science from Indiana University. She is a research librarian by day and scribbles away on her next by night. Her awards include a RITA Award, Christy Award,and Daphne du Maurier Award. She and her husband live in Florida. Find out more at

Bethany House Publishers, 384 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

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