Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Tea Rose-Jennifer Donnelly

The Tea Rose
Jennifer Donnelly
Dunne, Jan 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9780312378028

In 1888 the Finnegans live in the London neighborhood Whitechapel. The family patriarch Paddy and his daughter Fiona work for corrupt tea merchant William Burton. Fiona wants much more than toiling for a crooked person while living in a slum. She saves her pence in hope of achieving her dream of marrying her beloved Joe Bristow and opening up a shop.

However, her dream turns nightmarish when Joe is forced to marry someone else; Burton arranges for a hitman to kill her dad in retaliation for Paddy supporting the development of a labor union; the Ripper murders her mother; and finally the corpse of her deeply depressed brother is found in the Thames, an apparent suicide. Fiona visits Burton to obtain some money for her father’s death, but instead hears the odious braggart lauding his killing of Paddy. Desperate especially to keep her other sibling five-year-old Seamie safe, she tries to obtain passages on a ship heading to New York, but fails until wealthy homosexually inclined Nicholas Soames pretends she is his wife. In America Fiona and Seamie live with their alcoholic Uncle Michael; she keeps his West Side grocery store open and soon becomes wealthy ironically working with tea; but revenge remains for her on the other side of the pond.

This is a reprint of a superb historical thriller that brings to life the underside of late Victorian London and Gay Nineties New York. The story line is fast-paced yet readers will feel they walk the gaslight streets of Manhattan and the Ripper dark cobblestones of Whitechapel by the Thames. Sub-genre fans will appreciate this wonderful late nineteenth century epic.

Harriet Klausner

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