Over the last few months, I have found myself perusing the Amazon recommendations section. (What a nifty little feature that is in the Amazon app, am I right?) Low and behold, it comes up with this strikingly titled book Brentwood’s Ward by Michelle Griep. Being the sleuth that I am, (as they don’t call me Mandy Drew for nothing), I did a little research.
Brentwood’s Ward is Griep’s seventh published work. She came onto the scene in 2007 with the book Traveling Calvary’s Road, and has since been dazzling audiences with works such as Life Savors for Women, Cup of Comfort Devotional for Mothers and Daughters, Gallimore, Undercurrent, and A Heart Deceived. I do not deny the apparent ink her veins, for I have never read a novel quite like her latest work; however, I do have a few qualms with it.
We’ll come back to the qualms in a bit.
This is truly the first book of its kind, pioneering down territory that has yet to be revealed in the genre. In a rigid and compelling combination of Sherlock Holmes and Jane Austen, (with a healthy hint of what we are used to seeing on CSI and just about any BBC mini-series), Griep gives us a romance in a mystery, with all the historical detail intact without a stone un-turned. The novel takes a unique look at what crime was like in the early 19th century, and what it was like for a private investigator at the time. Many of us who have read Austen, (unless we read or watched P. D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley), had no idea that crime was a problem in the 19th century, (or not so much that there would need to be a special “police force” so to speak to take care of it). I have to give Griep a resounding “Bravo!” for her research on the subject, and for giving the novel a different lens that modern literature does not often have the privilege of looking through. At least half of the novel is seen through the “green gaze” of Bow Street Runner, Nicholas Brentwood.
With more twists and turns than the Pennsylvania turnpike, Michelle Griep delivers a novel that shocks, surprises, and suspends all preconceived ideas of novels of the sort.
As much as I did love, and I do mean LOVE, the book, there were a couple of instances in which I couldn’t help but wrinkle my nose and shake my head, and even one instance becoming a little offended. As a writer myself, I know that a novel has to have a bit of drama or it is just ink on a page. Drama in a novel is a carefully constructed thing that has to be organic and realistic, and if it isn’t those two things, there is no way that it can be believable, becoming more of an exaggeration and less of a description. There were several points in which Griep leans more towards exaggeration. The least offender sounding like, “a man gazing at a lover as he’s led to a noose[.]” I’ll admit, we all can see that picture, and we know exactly what she means. It comes down to a matter of taste and stylistic appeal; however, somehow it some of her choices of metaphor, while they are effective and beautifully written, are a bit over the top.
As for the offensive part, I have wrestled with this for a week now as to whether or not to give voice to this or to let it go, but it simply will not leave my mind. At one point in the novel, Griep seems to insinuate that all Italian men are Casanovas, for lack of many better and more vulgar terms. Now, I have an equal amount of faith in Griep’s readers that they can look at this with an objective mind and not add yet another black mark onto the stereotype of Italians. I am also aware of the historical view that the English had of Italians, which is a whole other issue all together. I just found myself reading this paragraph in the novel and thinking, “Is this how she sees them? Is she seeing this is how we should see them?”
If I were rating the book, until I read that passage I would have given it the highest rating, but because of this discrepancy, and my own heritage, I have to take it down a small notch. That is not to say that Michelle Griep doesn’t have a wonderful, fresh, different, unique novel – because she does, in every definition of the word. I just want her readers to look at it with objectivity and understand the time period that she is depicting.
That being said, I urge you to pick up the book and decide for yourself. Today I will proudly place it on my shelf, and it may even merit a second read, (which is saying a lot coming from me). All things considered, I say to Ms Griep, “Well done!” and look forward to your future endeavors.
Coming soon: Between the Pages: Jane Austen’s and Another Lady’s “Sandition”