Margo Tanenbaum's Reviews > Contagion

Contagion by Joanne Dahme
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's review
Dec 07, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: 19th-century, historical-fiction

I was disappointed in this historical novel, set at the end of the 19th century in Philadelphia, which revolves around a young woman named Rose Dugan. Rose seems to have it all--a fancy house, nice clothes, a best friend, and a rich and charming husband, Patrick. Her husband is a contractor who wants to build Philadelphia's first water filtration system, and is embroiled in the nasty world of 19th century urban politics. When Rose's best friend is murdered while wearing Rose's cloak, and Rose receives threatening letters, Rose becomes suspicious of her husband's business dealings. Soon an epidemic of typhoid has seized the city, at a time when the disease doesn't usually flare up. The story is told from the alternating point of view of Rose and a handsome water engineer, Sean, who is secretly in love with Rose.

I have to say that I didn't find the ins and outs of the Philadelphia water works very interesting, despite the murder mystery that the author weaves around the setting. I would contrast this to Jame Richards' book Three Rivers Rising, another YA novel released this year that also revolves around the mismanagement of water resources, and which I found very compelling. Also, I found the character of Patrick Dugan, the husband and villain, to not be very believable. I also didn't really identify with the character of Rose, who seems really weak when all the evidence is pointing to her husband being an evil character. Even when she finds evidence that he is having an affair, she doesn't really seem to turn away from his embraces.

While this may have local interest for people who live in Pennsylvania and are interested in local history, I did not find this to be a novel I would recommend widely.
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