Another meticulously researched period drama with dashes of mystery and romance from Donati, this time set in 1880s New York.
Donati (The Endless Forest, 2010, etc.) introduces two women doctors living near Washington Square during the Gilded Age: Dr. Liliane "Anna" Savard (granddaughter of Nathaniel Bonner of the Wilderness series) and Dr. Sophie Elodie Savard (Nathaniel’s great-granddaughter but about the same age as Anna). It’s 1883, and the doctors live with their Aunt Quinlan and her widowed stepdaughter, Margaret. Much of the story centers on the women’s work, and as the book opens, a young nun, Sister Mary Augustin, calls at their home for Sophie, who’s delivering a baby. Anna goes in her place to issue health certificates to a group of orphans. She meets DS Jack Mezzanotte and Rosa, an orphan trying to keep her sister and two brothers together. Donati spins the tales of Anna and Jack, Sophie and her maternity patient, the doctors’ childhood friend Cap Verhoeven, Rosa and her siblings, Sister Mary Augustin, and a plethora of friends and relatives into a story of more than 700 pages, all saturated with her signature historical detail. There’s good bit of social history, covering everything from “rational dress” and careers for women to contraception and the Comstock Act, advances in sanitation and public health. There are two mysteries as well, involving a serial killer preying on women seeking abortions and the whereabouts of Rosa’s brothers. Donati is skilled at giving depth to even the most minor characters, but she sometimes pursues tangents that are never fully explored. Despite the complexity, though, the novel never gets bogged down.
Page-turning and atmospheric, Donati's novel leaves readers with plenty of questions, perhaps signaling a sequel to come.