Fink offers a debut historical novel about a working-class woman’s will to survive in early-20th-century England.
In 1910, a man named James Casey lives in London, where he’s just started a new job with a shipping firm. Things are going well until he gets word that Katie MacLaren, a young woman he knows from his hometown of Kirken, Scotland, is in distress; her mother recently died and she needs help. So James brings Katie to London, where she soon insists on being called “Kate.” She quickly becomes enamored with city life, as well as with James himself; she marries him, although she finds their sex life to be less than satisfying. Fate smiles on her and James when one of his bosses, the kindly Mark St. John, allows them to rent a house that he owns in Chelsea. Kate soon oversteps the unspoken bounds of her class by inviting prominent local women over for a tea party—and every invitee declines. But this is only the beginning of Kate’s trials; later, she discovers that she has a history with another owner of the shipping company—a dastardly man named Desmond McGregor. Then World War I breaks out, which turns everyone’s lives upside down. If readers are expecting a simple love triangle here, they’ll quickly find that Fink’s story has much more to offer. Fancy cars, espionage, and even morphine addiction wind up playing roles in a narrative that, much like Kate, keeps rushing forward, no matter what obstacles are in the way. Excitement comes from characters’ personal failings as well as from international events. The dialogue, though, is often unimaginative, and some of the secondary characters, such as Mark's sister Muriel, trying to deflect the attentions of a much older suitor, don’t add much to the narrative. However, when the focus is on Kate and her intimates, the story will surely keep readers’ attention.
A fast-paced and often inviting drama.