This book has everything it needs to be a success and yet it left me feeling disconnected. In fact, there’s very little I could point out as being intrinsically wrong with the book, and yet it didn’t work. How’s that for a vague statement?
The “everything it needs” includes:
- Heroine – Beth Simmons, an appropriately downtrodden, yet tough, young widow with a daughter who is deaf and in need of surgery;
- Hero – Doctor Andrew Muller, the man who can help Dora regain her hearing but who has a painful past that prevents him from doing so;
- An original setting – Buffalo, New York a few years before the start of the Civil War; and
- The Villain – A man from Beth’s past.
There are a few subplots involving other women in Andrew’s life and the make-up of Beth’s past, but all of it adds up to a story that should engage the reader.
Beth shows up on Andrew’s doorstep, having traveled to Buffalo because of his renown, and asks that he help Dora. Though he refuses initially, Andrew eventually allows Beth to take over as his housekeeper in exchange for agreeing to perform the surgery that Dora needs. Though the moving of Beth into the household could have seemed a bit contrived, it was handled well by this author. Andrew is not a charming playboy intent on getting Beth into his bed, he just figures she won’t go away until he offers something and his hope is that she will turn him down flat. Beth doesn’t, and Andrew is trapped by his own offer. The two are drawn to each other, and much to Andrew’s dismay he begins to become attached to Dora as well.
This is all easily stated in a couple of paragraphs, but part of the reason this book didn’t work on an emotional level is how long it takes for all of this to happen. Both Beth and Andrew have painful baggage in their pasts and it’s realistic that they would work toward a mutual future in a slow and careful fashion, but it doesn’t make for very gripping reading. Even the danger the villain presents takes a long time to be realized. And the helping of the runaway slaves is written in short bursts that are interspersed with long sections of not much happening.
This novel earned a subtle sensuality rating, and it could also be called a gentle read. Scary things happen – but the reader feels removed from them. By necessity the villain is a pretty nasty piece of work, but he is so outside the rest of the story that it doesn’t feel like he’s there. Again, there’s a disconnected feeling. Andrew has a run in with the bad guy, doesn’t mention it to Beth, then the he disappears. Beth has a run-in with him, but doesn’t mention it to Andrew, and the villain fades into the background. It’s only in the last section of the book that these two even realize that they’ve been dealing with the same man. He just doesn’t seem to exist except for when he’s actively threatening one of them. This reduced the tension level dramatically.
The funny thing is that some of the plot points could have come across as unrealistic or silly and they don’t. The fact that no one (including Andrew) has performed the operation that he uses on Dora, could have come across as hokey, it doesn’t. This too is attributable to the pacing. It takes such a long time to happen and is discussed so many times that the reader forgets that it would be unlikely to succeed. Everything about this book comes down to the slow method of storytelling, the good and the bad. Even when Andrew is injured, there are almost no dramatics. Beth handles things matter-of-factly and Andrew spends his time in the attic.
All the elements are present, they just don’t add up to a story that will stay in my brain past the time it takes to finish this review. I do think that this one will appeal, possibly in ways I don’t get, to readers who enjoy a gradual story. But be aware, it is a very gradual story.