A Bucket of Ashes
Author: P. B. Ryan
Copyright: 2007 (Berkley); 278 pgs.
Series: 6th, and Final, in the Gilded Age Mystery series
Where & When: Cape Code, 1870
Who: Nell Sweeney, governess, and Dr. William Hewitt
Summary: Nell has proven herself a model governess in the years she’s worked for the Hewitts. But now a terrible secret from her past — and the lurking suspicion that she might be carrying Will Hewitt’s child — threaten to rob her of everything for which she has worked so hard.
Comments: Nell has a lot on her plate. Her only surviving sibling, Jamie, is dead. He was a fugitive, wanted for the murder of Susannah Cunningham. Also occupying her mind is that fact that she’s pregnant with Will’s baby and Will is in France. In the previous book, the American ambassador asked President Grant for an experienced battle surgeon, and Will was offered the job. Nell even begins to question whether Will — rootless vagabond, cardsharp, and recovering addict — can ever truly settle down. He didn’t take the teaching job, which he loved. Nell knows he went to France for her sake. However, with a child’s future in question, Nell can’t help but wonder. Regardless of what she thinks of Will, the fact she needs a divorce first, and soon, remains.
With so much uncertainty in her future, it is a small relief to know that her mentor and former lover, Dr. Greaves is offering her so much support. He knows that Nell is pregnant and that her heart belongs to Will, even as she questions his reliability. Dr. Greaves is just the type person Nell needs in her life at the moment, especially when word reaches the Hewitts that the American ambassador has “lost” his battle surgeon. Ms. Ryan — thankfully — chose not to heap another heartache on Nell (and her readers) by permanently separating the couple. Will does return from France alive, if a bit worse for wear.
Other reviewers have stated that they were disappointed on how easily Nell’s problems were solved. I admit that the book felt rushed, but I thought that the resolution wasn’t as easily wrapped up as it could have been. What I mean by that is the author didn’t take an easy way out — killing off Duncan in a prison fight/riot, for instance — off-screen and no fretting about what the Hewitts will do if and when they find out about Nell’s past. That would have been too pat. Instead, the author makes Nell deal with having to explain herself to Viola Hewitt, and find a way to get a quiet, and quick, divorce.
“The only reason you feel unworthy of that award is that you’re mired in your old notion of yourself as flawed and undeserving. Frankly, I’m beginning to find that refrain fairly tedious.”
“I’ve never known you to be quiet the pitiless shrew. I find it captivating.”
— Nell, Will
Started: 7 June 2008
Finished: 9 June 2008