“A harrowing cable-car ride through early 20th century San Francisco, where dark secrets — like the city itself — crack wide open.”
— Stephanie Dray, author of America’s First Daughter
“A brilliant story of resilience and the power of female friendship.”
— Marie Benedict, author of The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
For Sophie Whalen — a poor Irish immigrant in 1905 who longs for security, warm clothes, food to eat, and a child to care for — romantic love is not high on her marriage wish list. So when she sees an advertisement from a San Francisco widower who wants a new wife for himself and a mother for his daughter, she travels all the way from Manhattan to marry a man she’s never met.
Everything can go wrong from here, but surprisingly, Martin Hocking turns out to be a decent man, handsome, well dressed, and wealthy — an owner of a house in an affluent neighborhood and a car. He takes her directly to the courthouse to have their marriage officiated with vows, portraits and signatures. He also honors her stipulation to wait for intimacy until they have affection for each other. But as Sophie settles into her new life, something doesn’t feel right — Martin is not excited, not inquisitive, not happy, not upset, not nervous — about anything.
20TH-CENTURY HISTORICAL FICTION MEETS DOMESTIC THRILLER
Susan Meissner’s The Nature of Fragile Things (Berkley) reads like a well-crafted mystery since it begins with a U.S. marshal interrogating Sophie about Martin who goes missing on the day of the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake. As the story backtracks to before the catastrophe, Sophie observes each nugget of Martin’s oddity with thoughtful reasoning. At first, she supposes Martin’s apathetic facade — he even shows little affection to his five-year-old daughter, Kat — is caused by his grief over his deceased wife, but Sophie soon begins to suspect, instead, that Martin married so quickly after losing his first wife merely to present a successful image for his business.
It also reads like a well-plotted, suspenseful domestic thriller with a series of alarming clues — Martin keeps the drawers in his desk locked, he travels often for an insurance company, he appears to want to project a successful persona, yet he has no friends or evidence of clients.
Then a pregnant woman shows up at Sophie’s door, turning her life upside down in a most unexpected way, just as the disastrous earthquake cracks open the entire city …
MEISSNER CRAFTS STRONG WOMEN WITH MESMERIZING PROSE
Meissner has a profound understanding of mother love, of children, of what makes readers weep, and of what forges a strong woman. When Sophie treats little Kat as her own, takes every measure possible to protect her, and nurtures her with words of wisdom (beyond an ordinary twenty-one-year old’s mind some might say) that guide her for the rest of her life, readers can’t help but fall in love with her, even though they cannot shake off the feeling that Sophie is also hiding something.
Meissner’s prose, seamless, mesmerizing with a veil of subtlety, slips across the pages like swaths of fog in San Francisco and coaxes readers with judicious notes of mother love, with each clue, each suspicion, flickering mysteriously like an electric lamplight in the dark. Brilliantly deceptive and irresistible, The Nature of Fragile Things is an ingenious infusion of historical fiction, mystery and psychological drama.