An enjoyable Victorian-style melodrama, although the story is slowed by logistical details.

The Captain Takes a Wife


An ex–Civil War soldier–turned-preacher aids a young woman in danger by marrying her, but their troubles aren’t over.

Waiting for the train that will take him to his new job as preacher, Capt. Harry Richardson encounters a young woman in danger. Sarah Franklin, a teacher, begs for his help in escaping her pursuers, who want to force her into a marriage arranged by her scheming guardian. Snowballing circumstances—the innocent girl’s plight, Harry’s sense of responsibility, the villains’ relentlessness, suggestions of darker crimes afoot—make an impromptu wedding seem the best solution to protect Sarah. It helps that Harry and Sarah share an instant attraction, and after a few probing questions for one another, Harry asks, “Will you marry me today on this train?” Harry’s friends, who had accompanied him to the station, get in on the act, and together, they organize an onboard wedding while dodging gunmen from town to town until they can see Harry and his new bride safely home. Using many elements from Victorian melodrama, Durbin’s debut novel handles characterizations well, with both heroes and villains being more than just cardboard cutouts. The camaraderie between Harry and his friends is believable and helps define his character while making Sarah’s trust more understandable; he’s the kind of man friends would do anything for. Durbin also complicates the plot in interesting ways beyond the forced marriage. It’s a shame, though, that the story frequently bogs down in long to-do lists: e.g., “I can take this load to the railroad, send that other telegram, drop the basket at the hotel tomorrow, and then make the return trip with that bunch from Choestoe.” The dialogue doesn’t sound especially Victorian, and some other details are off, such as a wealthy man being noted for habitually wearing a three-piece suit—common attire in 1875.

An enjoyable Victorian-style melodrama, although the story is slowed by logistical details.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-1462732500

Page Count: 280

Publisher: CrossBooks Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2014

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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