A Bucket of Ashes
Berkley, Dec 2007, $6.99, 277 pp.
As a child Nell Sweeney lived in the poor house and lost her family to disease and when she got out she made a living working as a pickpocket. Now she has a respectable job working for the wealthy Hewitts as a governess to their adopted daughter Grace. Only she and the family know that Grace is Will Hewitt’s biological child, born on the wrong side of the blanket. He is unable to care for her because of his opiate and gambling addictions.
When the family goes to Cape Cod for the summer Nell runs into her ex-lover Dr. Greaves who tells her that her brother was murdered after hiding out in a shed that caught fire. He was wanted for the murder of Susannah Cunningham a woman who he worked for as a gardener. Besides needing a divorce because her abusive husband is in prison and will remain so for thirty years, and she is carrying Will’s baby, Nell with the help of Will and Dr. Greaves investigate the death of James because an autopsy shows he was knifed and did not die from smoke inhalation.
P.B. Ryan writes a heartwarming mystery that capture the ambivalence of the rich on the east coast five years after the civil war ended. The protagonist leads a troubled life but she rises above her upbringing to become a solid citizen who loves the responsibility of caring for her young charge. Will comes back from France where he was applying his medical skills and is there for Nell when she needs him most. Readers will care about him because he feels he is unworthy to love someone as pure as Nell.