The Dressmaker’s Dowry
By Meredith Jaeger
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
For readers of Lucinda Riley, Sarah Jio, or Susan Meissner, this gripping historical debut novel tells the story of two women: one, an immigrant seamstress who disappears from San Francisco’s gritty streets in 1876, and the other, a young woman in present day who must delve into the secrets of her husband’s wealthy family only to discover that she and the missing dressmaker might be connected in unexpected ways.
An exquisite ring, passed down through generations, connects two women who learn that love is a choice, and forgiveness is the key to freedom…
San Francisco: 1876
Immigrant dressmakers Hannelore Schaeffer and Margaret O’Brien struggle to provide food for their siblings, while mending delicate clothing for the city’s most affluent ladies. When wealthy Lucas Havensworth enters the shop, Hanna’s future is altered forever. With Margaret’s encouragement and the power of a borrowed green dress, Hanna dares to see herself as worthy of him. Then Margaret disappears, and Hanna turns to Lucas. Braving the gritty streets of the Barbary Coast and daring to enter the mansions of Nob Hill, Hanna stumbles upon Margaret’s fate, forcing her to make a devastating decision…one that will echo through the generations.
San Francisco: Present Day
In her elegant Marina apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, Sarah Havensworth struggles to complete the novel she quit her job for. Afraid to tell her husband of her writer’s block, Sarah is also hiding a darker secret—one that has haunted her for 14 years. Then a news headline from 1876 sparks inspiration: Missing Dressmakers Believed to be Murdered. Compelled to discover what happened to Hannelore and Margaret, Sarah returns to her roots as a journalist. Will her beautiful heirloom engagement ring uncover a connection to Hanna Schaeffer? (from Goodreads)
‘The Dressmaker’s Dowry’ is a thoroughly intriguing novel that includes a historical mystery, told in the voice of the protagonists, Hanna Schaeffer from the 1870’s, and Sarah, a young woman today. These young women drew me into their lives from the beginning and gripped my attention to the end. Past and present meet when Sarah works on her master’s thesis. While researching for the flagging novel that was to be her thesis, Sarah stumbles on an article about a cold case from the 1870’s, the disappearance of two immigrant women who worked as dressmakers in San Francisco. Realizing she couldn’t continue with the novel as planned, she changed to a non-fiction piece to find what had happened to Hanna and her friend Margaret.
We read the first-person perspective of Hanna, then Sarah, in alternating chapters. This is done so skillfully that I found it comfortable, and could hardly wait to return to each character’s narrative. The women “speak” through the author so well that they are three-dimensional and easily invoke the reader’s empathy.
Both women have challenges affecting their lives and livelihoods, and both face the loss of everything. Hanna and and her friend Margaret have drunken fathers and help feed and clothe their siblings; in Hanna’s case, she endures his abuse also. They both know a society marriage is not in their future. Sarah’s in-laws are very cultured, influential society people and she has found it hard to fit in with their ideals. Hanna meets Lucas, a man from a socially-conscious family. He wants to make her life better because he loves her, but she knows his family will force them apart. Sara has a shameful secret that she keeps even from her husband, Hunter, something that she still suffers from resulting panic attacks. She is sure that if he and her in-laws learn her secret, her marriage will be over.
Someone in Sarah’s life begins to follow, and even threaten her with the revelation of her secret. It is another mystery, one far too close and personal. Hanna and Margaret work for a very tough woman, and Sarah, working on her thesis, stops working for a company with many changes, including an abusive manager.
I have found this novel to be compelling and intriguing! I am fascinated by the history of San Francisco, especially the plight the lower-class working women whose work contributed to the ‘pretties’ of the upper class women. The mysteries of the past and the present keep the novel moving quickly. One thing I found interesting is how Sarah researched many sources and, while she may not have learned the complete facts of the disappearances of the two friends, she made excellent suppositions. The dialog and actions of the characters are those of a seasoned author, done with excellence and revealing the personalities of those involved. Also interesting to watch is the interplay between the bully in charge where Sarah used to work and her close friend Jen, leading me to wonder if we have really come as far as we think in 140 years.
I highly recommend ‘The Dressmaker’s Dowry’ to those who appreciate women’s literature, cold case resolution, and the history of the Barbary Coast during that area’s dangerous early years.
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*