Twice a year I have the very distinct pleasure of visiting the coast. My husband is a beach baby… born and raised, so the harbors no longer draw his interest. (Been there done that.) As for me, the city girl (or as much of a city girl close proximity to Dallas can afford me) I’m fascinated by them. The boats, the lines, the sails, sounds…they remind me of a well choreographed dance. Anyways…when I first saw the cover for John Smolens novel “Quarantine” I was in awe. It had ships, and boy were they beautiful. Then (shaming myself for cover lusting) I decided to be a big girl and read the synopsis. This is what it said:
“The year is 1796, and a trading ship arrives in the vibrant trading town of Newburyport, Massachusetts. But it’s a ghost ship–her entire crew has been decimated by a virulent fever which sweeps through the harbor town, and Newburyport’s residents start to fall ill and die with alarming haste. Something has to be done to stop the virus from spreading further. When physician Giles Wiggins places the port under quarantine, he earns the ire of his shipbuilder half-brother, the wealthy and powerful Enoch Sumner, and their eccentric mother, Miranda. Defiantly, Giles sets up a pest-house, where the afflicted might be cared for and separated from the rest of the populace in an attempt to contain the epidemic.
As the seaport descends into panic, religious fervor, and mob rule, bizarre occurrences ensue: the harbormaster ‘s family falls victim to the fever, except for his son, Leander Hatch, who is taken in at the Sumner mansion and a young woman, Marie Montpelier, is fished out of the Merrimac River barely clinging to life, causing Giles and Enoch who is convinced she ‘s the expatriate daughter of the French king to vie for her attentions–all while medical supplies are pillaged by a black marketer from Boston. As the epidemic grows, fear, greed, and unhinged obsession threaten the Sumner family and the future of Newburyport itself.”
A historical medical thriller? Count me in! It’s been a good long time since I time warped back to the days before modern medicine and reliable law enforcement; this should be fun! Right??
This is where things get complicated.
I have no idea why I liked this book. In the interest of full disclosure I fell asleep SEVERAL times while reading Quarantine. (Not a good sign.) And the 336 pages felt more like 600, but there was something so dementedly compelling about its plot that I just couldn’t get enough (once I drank a few espressos that is.)
First of all…this is not a thriller. Does it have it’s “moments” of thrill? Sure! It is a book about a rampant plague after-all, but “thriller” is pushing it a little…think drama (ala 18th century General Hospital) instead. Which is not a bad thing, just a “different” thing.
To make a long story short, Quarantine (in full melodramatic beauty) illustrates the fear, greed and obsession that can dominate not only a ship, but an entire town threatened with the onslaught of an epidemic. The rich hide behind their immaculate (maid kept) houses. The poor loot. The outcast help. And the law…well, they sit back and watch as people take matters into their own hands. Add a few high and mighty mother matriarchs and viola’ you have “Quarantine.”
So what exactly has me so confused on my like vs dislike of this book? Well, maybe it was the lack of forward movement in the first half (aka the boat wasn’t the only thing anchored, the plot was as well.) Maybe Miranda reminded me of another literary character (that I kind of despise) and didn’t want to hear anymore of her two-faced hypocritical (though wonderfully penned) bullshit. Maybe, all the action and revelations in the LAST 100 pages simply convinced me that all of my dozing (and occasional expletive) was worth the payout. Who really knows.
I will say that Mr Smolens was no slacker in the research department. As a matter of fact I Googled several things just to make sure. (Which is a total brat move, I know.) And the overall quality of the writing was top-notch (though admittedly crass at time.)
I think it came down to expectations with me. What I wanted and what I got weren’t exactly the same thing. Which just goes to show you that a book can be both bad and good (kinda like ice cream.)
I say take a leap if you like historical fiction. Everyone else…this is probably not a book for you.
Happy Reading my fellow Kindle-ites and remember: don’t believe everything you hear!
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** 2.5 if I’m rating only the first half **