Mama Vicky’s Book Nook
by Matthew Pearl
Author of The Dante Club
It is 1868 in the city of Boston. The Civil War ended a couple of years ago. Harvard is the place for higher education, for males only, of course. Beacon Hill is the homes of the Boston Brahmins. Rich young men are called “swells” and university students are called collegies. Technology is distrusted. People are not quite sure of what to expect from new inventions, though, the iron horse is well used. Some see new inventions as a threat to their jobs. Unions are forming. It is also the home of a fledgling university which is to graduate its first senior class this very year. The school for technology has been born of the genius of Professor William Barton Rogers in the swampy Back Bay area of Boston.
Without regard to station in life or sex, Professor Rogers invites Harvard students, blue collar workmen, and even a female to study there. Harvard collegies and professors alike regard the school with distrust. The two schools have become serious rivals. Enter in the 4 main characters, two swells who transfer to the Technology School from Harvard, along with a former Civil War veteran who is a machinist, and a lone female who must work in a lab separate from the young men and has to be tutored by the professors in separate classes. This is the setting for this gripping historical novel. Three of the main characters are actual people from that school as is the founder Professor Rogers.
The book starts out with a merchant ship sailing into Boston Harbor in a thick fog and colliding with another ship. As the fog lifts the harbor is littered with ships in various stages of destruction and the piers have been crushed to pieces. How could this happen? The ships were all using their compasses and the captains had sailed in fog before.
Soon a terrible disaster occurs in the banking district of Boston. The glass windows, the glass in spectacles and clocks actually seem to melt causing horrific injuries. A young actress who was leaning against the window when it melts is encased in the melted material and falls to her death, a crystallized statue. Many people are hurt. The question now becomes how are these things happening, why, and who is doing them?
Of course, it’s those students at the technology school. At least that is what is suspected. The college comes under fire and is overrun by police and inspectors. President Rogers becomes gravely ill and calls in his favorite student, the Civil War veteran, Marcus Mansfield. Before Marcus arrives the professor loses the power of speech. Marcus then notices some papers on the desk that look like research into the calamities. He takes them to protect them and then decides he and 2 of his fellow students and friends, Robert Richards and Edwin Hoyt, must figure out what is happening, stop further calamities, and prove that the technology school had nothing to do with these events.
Marcus and his fellows find an unused laboratory in the basement of the building. Their movements are noticed by Ellen Swallow who is the sole female in the school and must work in a laboratory in the basement on her own. The four become sleuths even though Ellen joins the group grudgingly.
Adventure, backstabbing, school rivalry, calamities, tension, disfigured people looking for revenge, panic, and large exoduses from Boston are woven into the book. Can the Technologists solve the scientific experiments gone awry in time to save Boston from total destruction, save the reputation of the institute of technology, and find the person(s) behind all of this? Read this wonderful book to find out the answers and to read about the history of Boston at the same time. Two thumbs up! This book has found a home on my bookshelf. Happy Reading!
(PS – I liked The Dante Club even better. If you are a Dante, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, or Henry David Thoreau fan you’ll enjoy this historical novel.)
As a budding wannabe author (I’m trying to write a book about our evil Chihuahua – humorous and revealing, of course.) I want to support other budding writers. Daphne and I had some English classes with a lady named Vicky who has become a good friend. She is a prolific writer and is versatile in various genres. Please check out her work on Wattpad.com. You’ll find her works under the nom de plume – sloanranger.
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