What I Read in August 2016 Part I . . .
It's no secret that Wally Carter married Ermyntrude for her money and in the last two years since their marriage, his deplorable behavior has gotten worse. Ermyntrude wishes he would not see, let alone lend money to, his friend Harold White and Wally wishes Ermyntrude had not invited an impoverished Russian - excuse me- Georgian, prince to stay. Ermyntrude's daughter Vicky has returned home from school, ready to play any role at a moment's notice and eager to take in the drama between her mother and step-father. Wally's niece Mary just tries to keep the peace. When another scandal threatens to brew, Ermyntrude flat out refuses to allow her family to be tainted by any sort of sordid scandal. Her resulting drama leads everyone to wish she would just divorce Wally. Luckily for all involved, except for Wally, someone thankfully shoots the man dead. Who could have done it? The local police are perplexed until London sends Inspector Hemingway to do the job properly. He has any number of suspects with good enough motives, but which one actually pulled the trigger? Was it the step-daughter protecting her mother? The prince, who wants to marry Ermyntrude? The lovesick, hot tempered farmer in love with Ermyntrude? The new person threatening to cause a scandal or someone else entirely?!
This book kept me up way way too late to see how it all concluded. The first half of the novel drags a bit. It takes way too long for the murder to happen. I was wishing Wally dead not long after I began the novel. The story picks up more when Hemingway arrives on the scene. Even though the first half was slow, I compiled a list of at least 6 suspects before the murder even happened! I kept flip-flopping between two or three suspects until the big clue was revealed but even then I wasn't so sure. The who and how seemed obvious until it wasn't. Red herrings abound! I was not surprised by who. The motive was a little different from what I suspected and the how was clever. The one big thing that really really bothered me in this novel was the dated attitude towards men who cheat on their wives, and men who father children with women who are not their wives. Outdated attitudes don't usually bother me so much but it was part of the plot and mentioned offhand so it was difficult to ignore. The situation was never confronted or resolved, which made me sad.
I really didn't like any of the principal characters. Wally was a dreadful little man who deserved to be left high and dry by his wife but not necessarily killed. The women in this novel are especially tiresome. For someone who wrote about such strong female characters in the 19th century, her 20th century characters are not quite as appealing. I absolutely could not stand Ermyntrude. She used to be on stage and it shows. Her new stage is domestic and her role is pure drama queen. She has hysterics at the drop of a hat and seems to relish being the center of attention for it. If everyone just ignored her, she'd stop. Some of her drama is deserved but some is brought on by her own willingness to be an enabler and also in her refusal to do something about her problem while she can. She is socially conscious and a social climber. She knows what she has to do to fit in but she doesn't know she'll never fit in with the gentry. They don't accept her -just her money. She's a figure of fun to them. Vicki isn't much better. She changes personality as often as she changes clothes. She's silly and immature. She does have a good heart and truly loves her mother and wants her mother to be happy. I liked her for that anyway. Her constant bickering with Hugh got on my nerves, and as a long-time fan of Heyer's Regencies, I knew where that was going.
The secondary characters aren't much better. The neighbors are superficially kind but secretly prejudiced and a bit cruel. I did love the God-controlled neighbor but confess to enjoying her in the same way her neighbors do- as a figure of fun. Hugh is nice enough on his own but with Vicki he becomes tiresome. Mr. Steele is too hot-tempered and too transparent about his feelings. I was confused by the doctor but not entirely surprised.
The only characters I actually liked were Mary and Hemingway. Mary is a bit of a Mary Sue but I can relate to her calm presence of mind and lack of drama. Hemingway is a great character. He's sarcastic, funny and clever. He gets all the good one-liners. Hannysede makes a brief cameo here as well. The two of them feed off each other and are quite amusing.
This is one of Heyer's better mysteries and I want to keep reading the Hemingway series.
Heroines of Mercy Street: The Real Nurses of the Civil War by Pamela D. Toler--Non-Fiction
This is a brief look into the lives of the real women who served as nurses during the Civil War. The mastermind behind the idea of female nurses was Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, a decade earlier. Dorothea Dix, best known for prison reform, followed up on Nightingale's triumph in the Crimea during the Civil War. Nurses were supposed to spinsters or widows over 30, plain and upright. No frills and hoopskirts were allowed. The Confederate states did not have an organized system of female nurses owing to the tradition of "true womanhood" where women did not work outside the home. What they did have, however, were visitors, like the character Emma Green in the series, who informally visits the boys and helps make them more comfortable.
It surprised me to learn that the real life Mary Phinney Von Olnhausen was over 40 when she was sent to Mansion House and by the end of the war, she was almost 50. Her husband died from complications following surgery- not lingering for long and she had been living on the prairie in Illinois helping family. There was no real life budding romance with Dr. Foster, in fact there doesn't seem to have been a Dr. Foster at all. After less than two years at Mansion House, she moved to North Carolina to work at a new hospital there and then a less attractive location in North Carolina. She went on to become a nurse during the Franco-Prussian War in Germany.
What is true is that Mary Von Olnhausen and other female nurses were looked down on by the male doctors. The real life Dr. Summers doubted a lady would withstand the conditions and do the job necessary but Mary made him change his mind. What is also true is that Mary fought corruption and the seward was a constant foe. Sewards and cooks found they could sell prime foodstuffs on the black market and line their own pockets rather than help the soldiers recover with nourishing food. This was a battle Mary never seemed to win.
On the partly true side, there was a nurse named Anne Reading, and she did have at least one drunken episode. I will have to read Mary's diary and see if they were really antagonists. They did not work together long.
This book describes the nursing duties of famous women like Clara Barton, Louisa May Alcott (Nurse Tribulation Periwinkle in Hospital Sketches) and those whose names remain unknown to most Americans. There were several different nursing groups at that time and women used their roles as reformers and community leaders to make a difference.
This book is short and brief. There are some gory descriptions of hospital life that were tough to read. The book left me wanting to know more about the individual women, especially Mary, the main character in Mercy Street. It isn't necessary to have seen the series to read this book. It's a good overview but not quite in-depth enough for me. I would have also liked to see some unpublished sources used, if there are any. I will have to make that a subject for exploration at a future date.