Book Review: Contagion by Joanne Dahme

For as long as she can remember, Rose has been promised to Patrick Dugan, a liaison forged between their two prominent Philadelphia Irish families. Once married to him she finds herself mistress of a grand home and a staff of servants.

But their marriage also began with sadness, as Rose’s parents both died from typhoid and Patrick’s parents were felled by accidents. Now the threat of typhoid is being raised again—by Patrick who wants a lucrative city contract to build filtration ponds to prevent it. The city waterworks bureau, and its dedicated guardian, Sean, maintains the water can be safe without the ponds if pollution can be kept from it.

The conflict spills into Rose’s life when a series of threatening letters warn her husband to stop his efforts. Then her best friend Nellie is murdered. With the help of the police and of Sean, Rose searches for Nellie’s murderer and puts her own life in danger in the process.

Contagion by Joanne Dahme is set in the late 1800s, a time when cities were trying to figure out how to accommodate industrial growth while maintaining the integrity of their water supply. Through Rose’s eyes we see both the beauty and grandeur of Philadelphia at the time and the seedier side of life that was reality for many workers. It was also a time of political and police corruption that often led to back-room deals that had little to do with the population’s welfare.

Part historical fiction, part mystery, Contagion will have you wanting to savor the details while you also long to flip pages furiously and find out what happens. I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 14 and up.

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