Vandriel: Victorian charm

Book review gives Second Street Station by Lawrence H. Levy a C+

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I’m struggling with some heavy writer’s block. Programmer Corrie and I have been talking about books (how vastly superior the Hunger Games is to Twilight), and movies (older version of Death at a Funeral with Alan Tudyk trumping the Chris Rock version). I have the novel that I’ve just finished reading at my side, but for the life of me I can’t conceive of an angle to approach it.

It’s not that Second Street Station by Lawrence H. Levy is a badly written novel; it’s not. The book, a historical fiction set in the late 1880s, has had enough success to warrant another two in the series, the most recent, Last Stop in Brooklyn, comes out in January. The main character, Mary Handley, is charming, albeit unconventional which is what makes her charming to a modern reader. Her intellect and courage cannot be denied. Perhaps my problem with her is that she doesn’t fit into my understanding of women and society from that time period. Which means that the fault is possibly mine, rather than the book’s.

What is most certainly my fault is that I saw a brief glimpse of the end, quite unintentionally, when I flipped to the back to see if the author had provided any additional historical information about the characters that sprawled across the pages in, mostly, arrogant misogyny. Levy had.

I would have been much better off looking the characters up in Google, and spared myself the frustration of ruining the story for myself. Five words! That’s all it took to ruin the suspense. At that point, it didn’t even help trying to suss out how the author would get around to that conclusion in a logical manner. It was ruined! I can’t understand those people who regularly read the last pages of the story, find out how it ends, and then go back and read it through. I don’t get it!

Up until that point, I had been happily trying to imagine which one of the several historical figures actually committed the crime, while struggling with the certainty that I couldn’t recall any of those persons having been tried for murder. I didn’t think they had, but I could be wrong; it has happened before. Now that I knew whodunit, that pleasure evaporated, leaving me only the historical setting to revel in. That, however, presented its own set of problems.

I enjoy the Victorian period. At one time, I considered doing a post-graduate degree in Victorian Literature. If it weren’t for the fact that I’d most likely be amongst the filthy masses, the lower classes, I would quite possibly have enjoyed living in that era very much, as a parson’s daughter or something. But I digress. I am familiar enough with the era to realize that some of the details were unlikely. A gentleman’s secretary would have been male, not female. A girl raised in an Irish tenement would be most unlikely to marry a lawyer and own fancy evening clothes and jewels. Those may appear to be minor differences, but I found them irksome.

If one were to refrain from close analysis and suspend one’s disbelief, the novel works. There is build-up to the crime, the murder, the investigation, red herrings, climax…and then a weird petering out as various story lines get wrapped up. Back in my English teacher days, I would have given it a C+. Overall, it was ok, and it tried hard. I will try to get a hold of the second book in the series and make sure I don’t sneak a peek at the ending before I get there.

By Caroline Vandriel

Library Director, Sylvan Lake Municipal Library

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