|“‘We all have things we don’t talk about, Ernest thought. ‘Even though, more often than not, these are the things that make us who we are.'”
Ford is the author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which is one of my favorite novels, and so I was thrilled when I saw he had written another historical novel set in Seattle. Thanks go to Net Galley and Ballantine Books for the DRC, which I received free in exchange for this honest review.
Ernest is a small child when his mother, who is dying, wrenches herself away from him and puts him on a boat to the USA. He attends a charity boarding school and then is raffled off, a free orphan to a good home, by the Children’s Home Society at the Alaskan Pacific World’s Expo. It is Flora, the madam of a Seattle brothel, that claims him and brings him to the city. There he is essentially a house boy, and he forms a warm friendship with two young women employed there, Fahn and Maisie.
The narrative is divided between two time periods, the first following Ernest as he leaves China and arrives in the USA at the dawn of the twentieth century, and the second in the early 1960s when he is elderly and his wife, Gracie, is suffering from dementia. There’s an element of suspense that is artfully played as we follow both narratives, trying to untangle whether the woman that becomes “Gracie” is Maisie, Fahn, or some third person.
But Ford’s greatest strength is in bringing historical Seattle home to us. The characters are competently turned, but it’s setting that drives this book, just as it did his last one. Ernest lands in the city’s most notorious area at the time, a place just south of downtown known as the Tenderloin:
All told, this is good fiction, poignant, warm, and moving. Two things give me pause: the ending seems a little far-fetched, and the depiction of the suffragists, who are some of my greatest heroes, is so hostile that it borders on the misogynistic. However, the latter is peripheral to the main story, winking in and out briefly, and overall this novel is an appealing read. It will particularly appeal to Seattleites and to Asian-Americans.
I recommend this book to you, with the above caveats, and it for sale to the public today.
I’m a long time reader of novels by JA Jance, but until I read this new release, I would have told you that her Arizona series are second string efforts compared to the JP Beaumont titles set in Seattle. Not anymore! Thank you to Net Galley and Touchstone Publishers for the DRC, which I read in exchange for an honest review. The book will be available to the public March 8.
Ali Reynolds is our protagonist. Her parents have retired, investing their lifelong savings with a company that turns out to be involved in a Ponzi scheme. Ali’s father goes to see his investment agent, who has also been a close friend for decades, and finds him dying. In attempting to revive him and another person, Dad gets the victims’ blood all over himself, and so he is suspected of murder when he calls 911. In an effort to help clear her father, Ali, along with her parents and those with whom she works at High Noon, unravels one layer after another of deception and danger.
Those that read my reviews know that I am always sensitive to the subtext. In addition to telling a well woven, technically savvy tale of suspense, Jance is brilliant here in the way she crafts her female characters. She takes apart almost every conceivable stereotype without pausing the story’s pace or becoming preachy or conspicuous. As the mother of a half-Asian daughter, I particularly appreciated the development of Cami. But even for those that don’t care much about social issues as reflected in text, it’s a tightly wound tale that will leave any reader leaning forward in their easy chair, straining to get to that last page and the denouement.
Besides enjoying the mystery, I also learned some things. I had never heard of a “clawback”, a terrible law that has to do with penalties that are assessed victims of Ponzi schemes, and I had also never heard of a “Silver alert”. I read a lot of nonfiction, but Jance’s new book is a great reminder that we can learn things from fiction too, and it’s often more fun that way.
Highly recommended to everyone.