Sweet Talking Man
Nineteenth century New York was a place with as much decadence and grandeur as Regency London. It also had a host of recognizable settings and lots of famous characters to play walk-on roles. Betina Krahn’s Sweet Talking Man makes good use of this richness, taking readers everywhere from an upscale brothel, to a settlement house inspired by Jane Addam’s Chicago Hull House. Sweet Talking Man is not a perfect romance but it is a lot of fun.
Heroine Beatrice Von Furstenberg is the wealthy widow of a Wall Street financier who taught her everything he knew about business. With her elderly husband dead, Beatrice has taken a place in the boardroom and in women’s suffrage rallies. Yes, people think she’s shrill and eccentric but Beatrice is more worried about doing something worthwhile than she is about her image. She runs her business and fights for women’s rights no matter who laughs at her. But Beatrice’s life is about to be turned upside down.
In one of those scams that occur only in romance novels, Beatrice’s niece and her boyfriend arrange to have her robbed so that he can jump in and save the day. (Thereby ending Beatrice’s opposition to their marriage). A couple of faux robbers are unknowingly provided by a Tammany politician by the name of Connor Barrow. (Connor thinks he’s just getting a couple of out-of-work fellows a job.) Naturally, the robbery is botched, so the two dolts take Beatrice to their favorite upscale brothel.
Beatrice is held captive in the brothel and a kind of Ransom of Red Chief situation develops. Nobody know what to do with her and she is a lot of trouble. For one thing she becomes bent on rescuing the “girls” in the house, who could care less about being rescued. Enter Connor who must persuade Beatrice to leave the brothel without reporting the kidnapping. He visits her repeatedly and this is how the two initially get to know each other.
The humorous chapters, in which Beatrice is held captive in the brothel, are only the first showcasing the many sides of New York. When Beatrice gets out she uses the leverage she has on that sweet talking Irish politician who obtained her release. Connor Barrow is an up and coming power running for Congress and Beatrice is determined that he will help her and her fellow suffragists win the vote.
Connor Barrow is the kind of handsome New York Irish politician who has the whole neighborhood in thrall. Connor is a product of his times and initially he has very little respect for Beatrice. But the more time he spends with Beatrice, the more he starts to think she has a point about the rights of women. It’s a problem for a man whose political career is tied to sexism.
It takes an awfully long time for Connor and Beatrice to develop from sparing partners into two people who respect each other. When Beatrice starts listening to Conner’s advice on political reality and Connor starts understanding that women aren’t trying to get their rights just to annoy men, the book kicks in as a romance.
Beatrice starts out as a bit shrill, but as the book progresses you grow to understand her. Women without men at the turn of the century not only could not vote, they couldn’t open a checking account without a man to sign the documents for them. Imagine life with your money in a mattress and you have the fate of an independent woman in 1900.
The accuracy of the details in this book delighted me. Krahn knows New York, knows where Conner’s office would be and where the cook at Hull House would have gone to buy vegetables. Even more important she captures the energy and vitality of the young and growing society. New York had all the decadence and extremes of wealth and poverty of London, but it also was filled with the excitement of hundreds of thousands of new Americans who believed that their children and grandchildren could grow up to be President. In the end, that mobility and passion is the biggest difference between the 19th century European and American settings. It is exciting to read an author who takes advantage of this difference to tell a uniquely American story.
Sweet Talking Man is a lively read that kept me interested. This is my first Betina Krahn book and I’ll be checking her out again.