In the summer of 1892, fire ravaged the city of St John's, Newfoundland. Paul Butler was inspired by this part of history to write a fictionalized account of the cause of the fire.
Kathleen, an Irish servant, meets Tommy as she's shopping for a gift for the sister she left in London. Tommy is a n'er-do-well who follows Kathleen and offers her a stolen music box as a present. Kathleen knows Tommy is trouble but she's lonely and has some major daddy issues. So when Tommy shows up at her employer's house in the middle of the night, she agrees to go walking with him. Eventually, Kathleen falls for Tommy, believing that she can change him into the man she wants him to be. Yeah, you know that always works.
Tommy is an angry young man. He drinks too much and the more he's mistreated, the more he drinks. He makes some half-assed attempts at pulling himself together after he meets Kathleen but mostly he wallows in self-pity.
In the meantime, Kathleen's employer, Mrs Stevens, invites her cousin Dr Glenwood to conduct some scientific experiments in her house. Kathleen is persuaded to take part in the experiment. This causes Mrs Steven's daughter Louisa, a lively teen, pangs of jealousy. She so wants to have admirers and adventures like Kathleen. Adventure is about to find her, in unexpected ways.
All these characters are about to play a part in the disaster that is the fire of 1892.
1892 is a unique story- part mystery, part historical fiction. It's beautifully written yet it's a dark novel. So many characters have sinister aspects to their personalities or they are unknowingly pulled into dark deeds. The narrative alternates between Kathleen and Tommy; Butler is good at luring us into switching our sympathies from character to character. Just as a felt a connection to a character, they would do something foolish that made me want to smack them. Equally frustrating is the attitude of the upper crust of St John's. Something happens toward the end that had me seeing red.
Even though I enjoyed 1892, it's a tragic story. That's not a spoiler. We know from the beginning that something really terrible has happened. Butler leaves us just enough clues to make us want to read on even though we feel like we might regret it. It's a 'don't look in the closet' kind of feeling. There are some twists that took me by surprise.
1892 is a perfect mystery to read on a hot, sticky night.