“The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Viking/Penguin Group, 2013. 499 pp.
The main character of this long novel is Alma Whittaker who was born in l800. The story will follow her life until 1883, but first comes the story of her father Henry who was born in England in l760. Henry’s father was a gardener or “orchard man” and Henry learns much about plants from him, and more from his travels around the world, the first trip being Captain Cook’s third voyage. Eventually he would make his fortune in the quinine trade and become very wealthy. He married a Dutch woman and settled in Philadelphia.
Thus Alma was born into a very well to do family. She was a large and rather plain person, but a very bright one, and always looking for answers to questions about life. She would become a very highly regarded botanist and writer. There are many other interesting characters in the book and I will mention a few. Alma’s mother, Beatrix, was another strong minded person, and also a botanist. Alma’s adopted sister, Prudence, with whom she had a strange relationship, will become an abolitionist. And then there is Ambrose Pike who would bring both hope and grief to Alma. It is because of Ambrose she will go to Tahiti. That is another part of the story that is enthralling.
At the close of the book Alma is living in Amsterdam and pondering the questions raised by Darwin’s book Origin of Species and how that relates to human beings. These last few pages are a satisfying ending. For me, this book was almost overwhelming, but worth every word. I highly recommend it. – P.M.
“Fugitive from the Grave” by Edward Marston. Allison and Busby Limited, 2018. 318 pp.
This is a detective story, the main characters being identical twin brothers Peter and Paul Skillen. It is set in England in 1817. It deals with three different cases. Paul trying to protect his girlfriend (almost fianceé) from someone who is stalking her and Peter who is trying to find out what has happened to a woman’s father who may or may not be dead. There is also another story of a clever and hard to capture thief who is being pursued by a group of detectives, The Bow Street Runners, who work for the government. While Peter and Paul are very decent men, The Bow Street Runners are on the unsavory side.
It has intricate and suspenseful plots and is very entertaining, and the twins are very resourceful and never give up until they solve the case.
Marston has written 54 books so far, many of them a series, and I think any one of them would be a good read. – C.M.