I have mixed feelings about this novel. But first, let me give you a synopsis of the plot. Eloisa is the daughter of the wealthy Carstairs of Chicago. In the first novel of this series, Eloise was sexually assaulted. She still has nightmares of the attack, even though the man has drowned. While at a society event, Eloisa meets Detective Sean Ryan, part of the police presence to protect women from a slasher who has been attacking beautiful women and scarring them. An unlikely romance begins to develop.
The strength of this novel, I think, is in pointing out the great gap between those in the wealthy society of 1890s Chicago and those of the common class. Eloise is of the former while Sean is from the latter. This gap and the snootiness of the wealthy is very clearly pointed out. Also a strong point of the novel is the exploration of what makes a woman beautiful (inside verses outside). Parallel to that concept is Eloise's feeling that she is not fit for any man, since she had been violated. Her finding self worth again is a struggle she experiences throughout the novel.
The novel was lacking, I think, in setting the external stage for its story. It takes place during the Chicago World's Fair but there is actually very little about the fair in the book. When an author is writing a historical novel, adequate description is essential. That was missing. For me, the action just floated and was never grounded in well described places. There was dialog in ballrooms and sitting salons, the locations seeming the same. Part of the novel takes place in the poor section of Chicago but I could never really visualize it.
The romance seemed a bit simple to me. A good romance involves some insurmountable obstacle the two must overcome. One might have expected that to be the gap in society between Eloise and Sean, but it never seemed to really come between them. With a few fits and starts, their romance progressed predictably.
The “mystery” aspect of the novel was almost nonexistent. The action requiring police intervention all happened off scene, until the very end. It almost seemed as a side issue, the romance taking center stage by far. I wish there had been a little more about the police procedure of the time too. Sean and Owen spent weeks, months on the case, but there was very little about what they did.
I thought a few of the characters were great. Sean's younger sister Katie was a kick. She was a little ball of fire. Eloise's maid was charming. What a delightful young woman, caring so much for Eloise's well being, drawing her out for emotional healing. Eloise and Sean seemed a little flat to me. Owen, the wealthy son who became a policeman, seemed like a nice fellow but really lacked a characteristic personality.
I would recommend this novel to those who really like a romance that emphasizes the class distinctions as seen in Chicago in the 1890s.
Shelly Gray is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, a finalist for the American Christian Fiction Writers' Carol Award, and two-time HOLT Medallion winner. She lives in southern Ohio, where she writes full time. You can find out more at www.shelleyshepardgray.com.
Zondervan, 328 pages.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.