The River Knows

When you read enough of any genre you can't help but notice certain patterns. I don't just mean that Westerns tend to have shootouts or thrillers love their serial killers, I mean some of the more subtle things. Back in the seventies I read a bunch of historical romances set on plantations that pretty much ignored the horrors of slavery. Oh sure, maybe the neighbor of the protagonist was an awful person but the protagonist was dearly loved by their slaves, who were always treated well, except for the fact that of course anyone who is enslaved is by definition not being treated well. These books always gave me the creeps and I started avoiding any story set in the antebellum south. In the same vein I noticed that servants in historical romances set in England seemed to be fair game for the upper classes.

I don't know how many books I've read that featured a male who learned all about sex from a rowdy kitchen maid, who seemed to be synonymous with a prostitute, even down to the man, who is often meant to be a decent fellow, tossing her a coin or two as he swaggers away, closing his trousers. A maid fired for improper behavior, or even worse, being pregnant, would have been cast out onto the streets with very little money and with no references, which would make it almost impossible to get another job. Any woman turned off in such a fashion faced prostitution, starvation or both. (Remember Fantine from Les Miserables? She sells her teeth, her hair, her body and then dies. No wonder the book has such a grim title.)

One of the things I love about author Amanda Quick is her sensitivity towards the plight of disenfranchised women. In a previous novel she discussed the dangers that household help faced and in the book I just finished, The River Knows, she highlights the limited choices even upper class women in British society faced when their providers left them penniless. As the book begins a woman who has barely managed to eke out a living prepares to fake her own suicide. She believes it is her only hope for survival after an attack by a man protected by his high place in society.

One year and two months later a gentleman by the name of Anthony Stalbridge follows a dowdy widow, Louisa Bryce, as she sneaks around the rooms of Elwin Hastings's mansion. He's intrigued by her behavior but also concerned as he knows there are armed guards on the floor. When the guards approach he does the only sensible thing, pretends he and Louisa are there because they're engaging in an illicit affair. Naturally that leads to a little smooching and increased interest in each other.

Once they get away from the guards they have a chat which leads Louisa to believe that Anthony is a jewel thief. Anthony is actually looking for proof that his fiancée, who everyone believes committed suicide, was really murdered. When Louisa discovers that he plans to sneak back into the mansion, she asks him to look for evidence that Hastings has invested in a brothel. Intrigued, Anthony reluctantly agrees and they begin a partnership that's meant to focus on their mysteries but soon morphs into much more.

The story is set in the late Victorian era, at the dawn of the typewriter age, (which as you know came after the dinosaur age but before the computer age); an exciting time that presages sweeping change in employment opportunities for women. Ms. Quick also discusses the ridiculous (albeit beautiful) clothing women of the time wore, the weight, bulkiness and how hampering they were. Again she doesn't lecture; all of this is either backdrop or integral to the story. For instance Louisa cannot run if someone chases her as her skirts are so heavy and hobbling and any woman who falls into the river will be pulled down by the sheer weight of her clothing and bustle.

Amanda Quick, one of Jayne Ann Krentz's pseudonyms, consistently writes fun, sizzling, romantic mysteries with swoony heroes and intelligent, spunky heroines. The River Knows deals with difficult subjects like despair and suicide but never bogs down in dreariness or sermonizing. Her dialogue snaps and crackles. The conversation between Anthony and Louisa is particularly entertaining, especially when Louisa is trying to keep from bruising Anthony's tender male sensibilities. Ms. Quick's cast of characters includes an entire eccentric family that's probably more interesting than the rest of society put together and some intriguingly villainous scoundrels.

I wasn't able to find an excerpt from the novel but I did find one from the audio version, which you can access here: http://www.ebooksonboard.com/index.php?BODY=viewbook&BOOK=176657&v=excer...

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Kyra, an elementary school student who IMed me to tell me she had just finished reading a middle grade book by Clive Barker, saying, " It was great. Today I finished reading the book The Thief of Always. I liked the book a lot because the author had a lot of imagination. And I like it when people make up stuff." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.