In the early 1910s, the House of Mercy, a home for wayward girls, looms over the posh Tildon estate in upper Manhattan. Will the Tildon daughters fall into its clutches?
Born with a heart condition that should have ended her life in infancy, 13-year-old Effie Tildon adores her older sister, Luella. When they discover a band of Roma camping near their home, their curiosity is sparked, and the two sisters begin sneaking out to sing, dance, and have their fortunes told. Even though their parents would be shocked, Effie and Luella know they are simply having some fun, exploring a new world. But discovering that their father, Emory, has a shameful secret drives Luella from home. Convinced that her parents have had Luella incarcerated in the House of Mercy (an American version of the notorious Magdalene laundries that plagued unfortunate Irish girls), Effie contrives to rescue her. Once inside the House of Mercy, she meets Mable Winter, who has plenty of secrets of her own to hide. Yet Effie has grossly miscalculated, and her rescue mission quickly sets in motion a series of fateful events that imperil her life. The bleak lives of women in early-20th-century New York spring to life through Burdick’s (Girl in the Afternoon, 2016) deft sketching. Whether born to privilege, as the Tildon girls are, or tossed into the tenement slums, as Mable is, each girl must fight bitterly for any kind of freedom. As for the House of Mercy itself, Burdick shrewdly lets it loom in the background for a bit before pulling it to the foreground, like an urban legend suddenly brought to life. Burdick is especially adept at slowly revealing the motivation of the ominous figures around Effie and Mable while ratcheting up both the girls’ vulnerability and courage.
A spellbinding thriller for fans of Gilded Age fiction.