Maggie, a widow with two teenage daughters, runs a rooming house smack dab on the town square. In 1860, this makes her a social outcast - boarding houses are hardly respectable. And her collection of eclectic boarders - a failed aging writer, an undertaker's apprentice, a struggling young lawyer, and an old Irishman - only brings her snubs and snide comments, as does her friendship with Emily and Nate, an African-American couple with whom she shares her home and chores. So Maggie is stunned when she is asked to provide a room for Jeremiah Madison, the new and very gifted Methodist minister. He may be able to revive the little church she attends and provide her boarding house with some badly-needed respectability. But Jeremiah comes with secrets that will change Maggie, her friends, and her town forever. (Based on an historical event.)
An Authentic Portrait of 1860’s Mid-America
In Blaineton, during a pre-Civil War America, Maggie is still paying for her sin of marrying the son of her father’s business rival. Though her husband and father of her two daughters died ten years before, Maggie is still estranged from her pompous brother Samuel, though she tries to heal the breach. Samuel, however feels that Maggie would have done better to throw herself on his mercy and become a dependent.
A committed Christian, Maggie has a generous heart and gathers life’s lame ducks to her side, including a black couple, Nate and Emily, whom she fears for in case they are captured and sent as slaves to the south. Then there is Eli Smith, Maggie’s love interest who believes quoting bible scriptures loudly and often does not make a Christian.
The dynamic of the community is altered when Reverend Mr Jeremiah Madison arrives. Handsome and charming, his charismatic preaching style soon has the folks of Blaineton worshipping at his feet. However Maggie is uneasy when the young girls of the neighbourhood, including her niece and her own daughters fall for his charms. The only person who is not fawning over the good reverend is Eli.
Janet Stafford draws an authentic picture of the prejudices, hypocrisy and undercurrents of a small community who feel they are inherently ‘good’, but who don’t see how their actions affect others. Maggie commits her thoughts to her diary, which helped us see her more clearly, though I did think she was being too reckless putting her involvement in the underground railroad on paper.
The author’s writing is beautiful, gentle and heartfelt, though I just knew it would take a turn for the sinister somewhere along the line – and indeed it does in a case of arsenic poisoning.
I am not a fan of inspirational novels, and in places the religious aspect was a bit overplayed, but then Maggie is a mid-Victorian American widow who lives in the bible belt, so Ms Stafford wrote her character perfectly.
I received an e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.