When I read this title last week, the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t really hit our shores yet. I mean, we were all aware of what was going on remotely, and were being told to be cautious, but we weren’t in a state of panic. That all seemingly changed all the night – and blame media, blame government, blame who you will – the very real fact is that humanity didn’t respond as they might, but I’m seeing bright lights in all the darkness. Ironically (or not, I never quite know if something is truly ironic…), when the schools were shut down and the locals went mad over toilet paper, bananas, and shelf stable pantry basics, I was reading a fictional account of a historical event (one of my favourite genres!) and I was struck by the panic and helplessness that imbued so many of pages. It made a far off distant event relatable because of the unease that we too seem to be experiencing.
Here is a description of Veiled in Smoke by Jocelyn Green, straight from the publisher:
Meg and Sylvie Townsend manage the family bookshop and care for their father, Stephen, a veteran still suffering in mind and spirit from his time as a POW during the Civil War. But when the Great Fire sweeps through Chicago’s business district, they lose much more than just their store.
The sisters become separated from their father and make a harrowing escape from the flames with the help of Chicago Tribune reporter Nate Pierce. Once the smoke clears away, they reunite with Stephen, only to learn soon after that their family friend was murdered on the night of the fire. Even more shocking, Stephen is charged with the crime and committed to the Cook County Insane Asylum.
Though homeless and suddenly unemployed, Meg must not only gather the pieces of her shattered life, but prove her father’s innocence before the asylum truly drives him mad.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not dealing with PTSD, I didn’t lose my home, no one in my family has been committed to an asylum, nor have I been dealt a blow like the Chicago Fire and it’s wake of destruction. Somehow, though, I felt like I could relate to all the emotions and challenges the sisters were feeling and I attribute this to the gifted writings of the author.
There was a lot going on in this book – like crazy amounts of pressure and so many issues to resolve – but it worked. The mystery surrounding the crime wasn’t unexpected, but the journey to the final resolution kept you with a niggling little grain of doubt – maybe you knew, maybe you didn’t, and even a conviction that you were right, but you didn’t quite get the how. All figured out and tied up in a neat bow by the final chapter.
Overall, I’d recommend this title as it’s set in a wonderful accounting of a great historical event (and I even learned something reading the author’s notes at the end….) It deals with so much more than just “the fire” while creating not-always-likable-but-very-real characters in some devastating circumstances. Great descriptions, good flow, and elements of surprise lead to a well-rounded, but intense, piece of fiction with some hope, some heartbreak, some history.
My thanks to Bethany House for providing me with a complimentary download of this title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.
Published by: Bethany House
Publication Date: February 4, 2020