Desert Isle Keeper
I loved Redeemed, even with its dark subject matter and deeply flawed characters. Ms. O’Keefe has a masterful touch and capably leads the reader out of the darkness and into the light as the story concludes. Though I’m often frustrated by short stories, this is lush with detail and engaging from start to finish.
Dr. James Madison lives in a whorehouse. A Union doctor during the Civil War, he’s newly free of an addiction to the chloroform he abused to try to silence traumatic war memories. Delilah, the whorehouse owner, cared for him as he detoxed and with nowhere else to go, he stays. Full of despair, regret and loneliness, James walks the streets at night to fend off cravings for the drug. Returning one evening, he notices a large cage in the barroom. He learns the Northern Spy, a beautiful woman who sings while locked in the cage, is also staying in the whorehouse and scheduled to appear over three nights.
The Northern Spy is Helen Winters, ward of Dr. Charles Park, a former landowner from Charleston. When James is sent to her rooms by Delilah to determine whether she is a virgin, he discovers a beautiful woman and a mystery. She’s clearly under the influence of a narcotic, wary of James, fearful of Park, and under guard at all times. His instincts, and the feelings she arouses when he’s with her, lead him in a quest to save her from whatever ties her to Park.
On the last night of the Northern Spy’s engagement, James defeats Park in a high stakes poker game and wins a night with Helen. Park has no intention of releasing her, but in the chaos at the end of the game, James and Helen escape. As James helps Helen regain her independence – from the cage, the laudanum, and her past – he finds own redemption and freedom from his past.
The direction of the story changes after they escape the whorehouse. Park discovers Helen and attempts to trap her once again. The aftermath of this confrontation and a major twist that heralds a change in Helen’s fortunes, completely change the tone of the story. I was caught off guard and surprised the story went in the direction it did. From hopeless to hopeful, the conclusion and epilogue were bittersweet and pitch perfect.
Redeemed is a brilliant and moving love story. It’s easily my favorite novella in the anthology.