Mary Sutter, Book #2
By Robin Oliveira
Author Website: robinoliveira(.)com
From the New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter comes a rich and compelling historical novel about the disappearance of two young girls after a cataclysmic blizzard, and what happens when their fate is discovered
New York, 1879: After an epic snow storm ravages the city of Albany, Dr. Mary Sutter, a former Civil War surgeon, begins a search for two little girls, the daughters of close friends killed by the storm who have vanished without a trace.
Mary’s mother and niece Elizabeth, who has been studying violin in Paris, return to Albany upon learning of the girls’ disappearance–but Elizabeth has another reason for wanting to come home, one she is not willing to reveal. Despite resistance from the community, who believe the girls to be dead, the family persists in their efforts to find the two sisters. When what happened to them is revealed, the uproar that ensues tears apart families, reputations, and even the social fabric of the city, exposing dark secrets about some of the most powerful of its citizens, and putting fragile loves and lives at great risk.
Winter Sisters is a propulsive new novel by the New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter. (Goodreads)
This is one of the more powerful historical fiction novels that will be released this year. It includes elements of all good mysteries: victims, survivors willing to go to any length to find the truth, suspense, intrigue, potential bad guy(s) / gal(s). Even the cops are not exempt from scrutiny, and those considered the least of citizens help search for the truth. The characters are memorable, rich descriptions of settings at times incongruous with events, and shocking, even horror-filled plot twists. There were times I felt as if my heart were being served up on a platter, enduring the bad and the sad with them. Would I read it again? Absolutely!
Mary Sutter Stipp is a surgeon who served in the War of the Rebellion, who met and married surgeon William Stipp. Her mother, Amelia Sutter, a midwife, shared their home, as well as their niece, Elizabeth, daughter of Mary’s late sister. Many years earlier, a young woman named Bonnie whose husband died in the war and both of their children died as infants, was also taken into their family home. Bonnie is now, in 1879, married to David, and they have two daughters, Emma, 10, and Claire, 7. They have their own home now. The millinery shop Bonnie opened years ago with the help of Amelia is now very successful.
Then the blizzard comes with a sudden whiteout. Emma and Claire are kept at school with their fellow students for two days until the snow stopped. The other students’ parents came to take them home, but neither Bonnie nor David comes for them. The school doors were locked as there was no more food. This is the last time they were seen, to the best Mary and William could uncover. Unbeknownst to the children, Bonnie and David were killed almost instantly within a short time of leaving the girls at school on that fateful day. Imagine, there are no TV channels to tell families where children were, or when the snow might stop, or even who was considered “missing”.
Seventeen-year-old Elizabeth is in Paris with grandmother Amelia, studying with a great violinist to learn whatever she didn’t already know to make the instrument sing, emote happiness and pain, and be a master violinist. She struggles with challenges from her instructor, so returning to Albany was a mixed blessing. She and Amelia learned by telegram that Bonnie and David were dead, that the girls are missing. And the suggestions by the police that they probably wandered in the snow, fell into the river, and drowned are not what the family will accept.
Mary, Elizabeth, and Amelia are very likable, well-defined protagonists. I like them for their passion for what they believe to be their calling, to finding the truth, to their emotions, significant family events, and hopes for the future. Others significant are less well defined, revealed only as it becomes necessary to the novel. Some of the characters gained a new strength, such as two that I also liked, Jakob and Viola Van de Meer, while the secrets of others divulged their weaknesses.
This novel shows the very best – and the very worst – of human nature. From the free clinic where Mary treats the prostitutes to the wealthy who own much of the city, people are weighed by who they know and how much money they have. Mary does what she can to protect those who try to help her discover what happened to the girls. It is hard, heartbreaking, to imagine just how little the law did to protect women and children in 1879. I appreciate the gentle love story within, and how events shaped some lives for the better. I also appreciate the interrelationship between Elizabeth, Emma, and Claire, which is a sight to behold. There are plot twists, pulse-pounding and shocking moments. Overall, in spite of the horrors within, the good outweighs them. The end is satisfactory with open ends tied up, although resolutions in the last couple chapters seemed to go by too quickly. While this is second in the Mary Sutter series, it can be read easily as a standalone. I highly recommend this historical and literary novel.
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*