A Dangerous Legacy
Clean drinking water. It’s something that the majority of people in the Western world take for granted but for many on Earth, it is a luxury that remains seemingly out of reach. In A Dangerous Legacy the history of water in the New York tenements comes to life amidst the backdrop of a scintillating mystery and romance.
It’s the turn of the century and an exciting time for global news. With the advent of the telegraph and its wires that span the globe, the world has never been more connected. Keeping people informed is a competitive business and the fledgling AP (Associated Press) news service is battling for survival. This American answer to the powerful British run Reuters News Agency employs dozens of telegraph operators with a mastery of Morse code and a drive to succeed. Lucy Drake is a firm believer in the AP and what they do and is one of their most fervent employees, zealously manning her vital telegraph station. That is not her only mission in life however.
Lucy and her brother also spend a great deal of time and energy involved with the business of water. They devote weekends to installing pumps and “an ingenious set of valves” in tenement buildings so that people living on the upper floors can have water delivered directly to their apartments. It saves women and children from hours of back breaking labor lugging buckets of water up many flights of stairs and raises the standard of living for everyone in the community. Their work is very clandestine however. Their family has been involved in a bitter law suit for forty years over the design of those valves and it is this – both the distribution of water to hard working families and the antagonistic legal battle surrounding it – that is Lucy’s true passion.
Sir Colin Beckwith is a man of conflicting passions as well. He, too, is an avid fan of the news service though in his case it is the AP’s rival, Reuters, that Colin loves. He is passionate about running their New York office and showing those Yanks what great reporting really looks like. But his other love is many thousands of miles away in England and in desperate need of help. Whitefriars, the family estate, employs ninety-one people, many of whom have nowhere else to go. Right now, from leaking roof to flooding cellars, Whitefriars is falling down around the folks who depend on her. Colin is drawn to Lucy from the moment he meets her one exciting evening in New York but Whitefriars needs an heiress and he has every intention of using his good looks, charm and title to land one.
That doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy those moments when he and Lucy clash over whatever latest issue has fanned their rivalry, though. Nor does it mean he can’t appreciate her sparkling eyes and shining dark hair. When he catches her doing some illicit telegraph work, he sees a situation in which a bit of quid pro quo could help them both – and give him the opportunity to appreciate her for just a little bit longer. The two become entangled in an exciting adventure that leads all the way back to the White House but it is not only the villains who present true danger to them; it’s their own wayward hearts.
Sometimes a hero makes the book and this novel is definitely one of those times. Sir Colin Beckwith is a completely delightful protagonist. I liked that he can both play the haughty aristocrat and make gentle mockery of his own false importance. I loved that he has a great sense of adventure and purpose without making a martyr of himself for his causes. The psychological wounds he suffered during the Boer war not only humanizes him but serves as a nice reminder that PTSD was a disorder long before it was named or acknowledged and shows us the high cost of reporting violent news. I adored his pets (homing pigeons), wanted to try his favorite cookies and pretty much fell in love with him as I read his story.
Camden’s romances tend to contain the very best historical content and that is true here. From the exciting world of the blossoming global news business to the small details of trends in home decorating (creative taxidermy? Ew!) she really brings 1907 New York alive. The history never feels like a lesson but she enmeshes you so perfectly in the setting you’ll feel like you’ve been swept back in time.
Lucy and Colin have a snarkier relationship than I typically like but I appreciated how they trusted each other, helped each other and cared for each other. Their words may be barbed but their actions are always tender and heartfelt. By the end of the story I was convinced they are each other’s perfect partner.
Hardly any stories are perfect and a few quibbles kept this excellent tale from being a DIK. I struggled with the character of Lucy, who often displays unnatural extremes in her behaviors. Her early obsession with the case and shift in attitude towards the end is just one example where her personality underwent too much of a change for me to find her character arc believable. It felt very deus ex machina, as though the heroine served the plot rather than the other way around. My other cavil is that Ms. Camden typically sticks to light reference of God and benign theology in her novels and that is an absolutely wonderful way to weave faith into the story without losing the focus on the romance. This time I found the theology woven into the tale a tad disturbing. Her references to talent being a gift from God and the ability to build things making it seem that God was smiling on you made it seem as though blue-collar labor was holy work. The underlying attitude in the book seemed to be that wealth lead to corruption and manual work to good morals. This made me uncomfortable from a spiritual and personal aspect. I don’t think any kind of work is holier than any other or brings us any closer to God. That is the purpose of good works, filled with charity and compassion. Fortunately, while the message is clear, it is also fairly scarce and in no way takes over the story.
None of those quibbles keep me from wholeheartedly recommending A Dangerous Legacy, which is an absolutely terrific, not to be missed Inspirational romance. Fans of Ms. Camden will be delighted with the story and new readers will, I’m sure, be inspired to seek out her backlist.