This long, absorbing novel is the sequel to Donati’s enthusiastically received The Gilded Hour, a multi-family epic centered on the lives of Anna and Sophie Savard, cousins who attempt to further the cause of medical care for women in post-Civil War New York. Descended from the extended fictional family that is the subject of Donati’s celebrated Wilderness series, both young women continue their efforts to practice medicine and fight for the welfare of mothers and children.
In the previous novel, they found love and danger while helping a charismatic lawyer-and-detective team solve a series of harrowing child murders. In this novel, the cousins are reunited: Anna married to the kindhearted detective Jack Mezzanotte, and Sophie returning from a honeymoon tragically cut short by her bridegroom’s death from tuberculosis. As Sophie grieves and struggles to make something useful of her husband’s legacy, Anna enlists her aid in attempting to discover the identity of a murderous abortionist before they strike again.
This sprawling tale has a huge cast of intriguing characters; Donati’s clever device of beginning the book with a series of letters, news clippings, and telegrams will help readers who missed the first novel catch up quickly. The cousins’ nemesis, the real-life crusader against vice, Anthony Comstock, returns in this outing as well, and the talented, brilliant women must call on their wide network of loving, activist family members to combat his sinister efforts to oppress women and the poor.
Each character is fully and lovingly realized, and Donati adds a few other point-of-view characters without ever confusing the reader. Her knowledge of 19th century New York is such that walking the kaleidoscopic streets alongside the fascinating Savard cousins feels absolutely real. This is a satisfying family saga as well as an absorbing mystery that readers will hate to see end, but it’s very likely Donati is not finished with the charming Mezzanotte-Savard clan.
starred review Donati’s saga of a New York family in the 1880s, with its exquisitely realized characters, is apt to inspire repeated readings. Taking up the story begun in The Gilded Hour (2015), Donati extends the experiences of the Savard cousins, Anna and Sophie, both physicians, one white and one multiracial, and the diverse individuals who become their family, ratcheting up the the suspense. Anna’s Italian American detective husband investigates the case of a postpartum deceased woman who was left at the door of a hospital and appears to have been drugged and held captive for a lengthy time. Is her death linked to a serial killer thought dead? Time is of the essence when a beloved society matron goes missing; is she another victim?Mourning her beloved Cap, widowed Sophie takes up the responsibilities of administering his estate and founds a medical school for women of color, while also dealing with issues faced by orphaned children. As she brings the sights, sounds, smells, and social mores of 1884 New York into sharp focus, Donati creates a timely tale of the past that illuminates the ongoing struggle for women’s reproductive rights and sheds light on the passionate, centuries-long fight over abortion. — Diana Tixier Herald
Luring women with the false promise of a safe, albeit illegal, abortion, a serial killer is on the loose in 1880s New York City. In this sequel to The Gilded Hour (2015), Donati returns to a time when female doctors were viewed with surprise if not outright hostility. Cousins Anna and Sophie Savard have earned their professional medical training, both turning to practice primarily on women. Grieving the recent death of her attorney husband, Cap, from tuberculosis, Sophie plans to use her inheritance to establish scholarships and a welcoming home for women pursuing medical studies. Happily married to Jack Mezzanotte, a detective investigating the killings with his partner, Oscar Maroney, Anna is a highly accomplished surgeon, but they have just lost custody of the children they were fostering, children the church wants raised by Catholics. The sprawling Savard family blends multiple ethnicities, including Italian, Mohawk, and African American, and Donati crafts strong female characters who draw upon the wisdom of their ancestors to transcend the slings and arrows of petty racism and sexism. She juxtaposes these women, thriving on the energies of the zeitgeist advancing women’s rights, with the villains, who sink into the muck of dubious morality crusades, such as the anti-contraception and anti-abortion campaigns of Anthony Comstock and the xenophobic orphanage system run by the Roman Catholic Church. Through Sophie’s and Anna’s work, Donati sketches in the historical backdrop of reproductive challenges in late-19th-century America: Women dying in childbirth, women dying to avoid childbirth, women and babies mangled by medical quacks, and children drugged to the point of death just to keep peace in the nursery. The wounds inflicted by the serial killer caused prolonged, severely painful deaths, suggesting not inept but malicious intent. And as the Drs. Savard assist Jack and Oscar in their investigation, another woman goes missing. Detectives, doctors, and dastardly scoundrels abound in this fascinating historical novel.