A bright, plucky, and (of course) beautiful Cockney girl escapes poverty and violence in the Whitechapel neighborhood of Victorian-era London to make her fortune in New York City.
In Donnelly’s sprawling debut, the heroine is heroic, the villains villainous (and rich), and the heroine’s love interests in need of a strong woman like her to keep them out of trouble. Seventeen-year-old Fiona Finnegan’s plans to open a shop with her childhood sweetheart Joe are dashed when Joe succumbs to the wiles of his boss’s daughter and ends up in a shotgun wedding. Fiona’s distress is compounded by her father’s accidental death at the Burton Tea Company, where he was organizing a union, her mother’s murder by Jack the Ripper, and her brother’s drowning. When Fiona overhears William Burton, the cold-eyed, knife-wielding owner of Burton Tea, brag that he had her father murdered, she realizes her own life is in danger and flees to America. Befriended en route by a young art collector named Nick, Fiona is put off by neither his syphilis nor his homosexuality, an open-mindedness that rings false in the Victorian setting. Taking over her alcoholic uncle’s failing business, Fiona becomes a successful grocer, and, although she still pines for Joe, she enjoys being wooed by a charming, prominent financier. Then Nick faces a homophobic scandal instigated by her wealthy suitor’s son. Unaware that Joe, whose marriage ended when his wife miscarried, is still searching for her, Fiona marries Nick to save his reputation and settles into what turns into a happy if unconventional marriage. While amassing a fortune in the tea and grocery trade, Fiona secretly plans to wreak revenge on Burton. After Nick’s death and extensive plotting, she returns to London, reunites with Joe, and causes Burton financial ruin, which brings out his murderous side. Or perhaps he was more murderous all along than in anyone’s worst suspicions.
Bland, despite the gruesome-deaths quotient.