Contagion is a YA historical mystery recently released and written by Joanne Dahme.
Eighteen-year-old Rose Dugan is finishing up her first year of marriage to her long-betrothed, powerful husband, Patrick. On the surface everything is going very well for her - wealth enough for everything she'd need or want and a wonderful best friend, Nellie, to bring light to her days. Yet things take a disturbing turn when intimidating letters begin turning up, threatening Patrick and Rose, demanding he stop his petitioning of big changes to the city's Water Works systems - changes that could mean even more money and power for Patrick - and the destruction of the beautiful site.
But as harmless as Patrick finds the letters, Rose finds them worrisome - and when someone quite dear to Rose is murdered while wearing her cloak, her worries are proven. Or are they? Could it have just been a robbery gone bad?
Rose finds herself enlisting the help of the good-looking and kind young man that maintains Philadelphia's Water Works, Sean, as panic breaks out - typhoid is returning to the area and seems to be in the water. Is there any chance that all of these events are somehow connected? Rose can't get rid of the nagging feeling that they are. But how come everyone's finger seems to be pointing either to her husband Patrick or her newfound friend Sean?
Okay, so anytime I hear about a YA book that mixes historical fiction with murder and danger (usually can't have the former without the latter, I suppose) - I'm there! Usually a quite awesome combination...
The prologue to Contagion brings to us a picture of a thirteen-year-old Rose meeting her future husband, Patrick, who is already twenty. There was something so disturbing about seeing (in the reader's mind's eye) this young girl have no say about her future - and is no less disturbing when the novel picks back up in 1895, in which Rose and Patrick are married. It is so odd, yet fascinating, to have Rose and her best friend Nellie so young, yet mistresses of households.
However, despite this rather interesting beginning it doesn't take long for Contagion to switch narrative viewpoint to Sean (as it will do throughout the entire novel), where the talk of the Water Works system and grounds is full of passion, for sure, but not of much interest to me. Especially as it veers more into politics than I prefer, or care for...
And sadly, the suspense being created by the author felt, to me, superficial and never authentic... You could completely disagree with me and be on pins and needles the entire time - so don't take my word for it! Just gotta be honest here... I was disappointed with the lack of creepiness, with the lack of a true sense of danger or mystery.
Plot-wise, Contagion certainly takes its time, which is not necessarily a bad thing - as slowly I began to care a bit more for the characters, and the murder at least affects me a little. However, though the period feel is good and seems well-researched, the slowness of anything actually happening can't help but make me feel a little, well, bored.
The focus and detail of the city's Water Works is probably fascinating to some people - clearly a passion of the author and all of the characters in Contagion - and is certainly a worthy cause and work to magnify. Yet in a novel, in my opinion, it seemed to drag the plot down and the controversy surrounding it never reached a compelling point for me, and instead was tedious.
I felt like Contagion needed more to happen - as if there were far too many pages for far too little going on. It lacked the atmosphere and whodunit quality I expected after seeing the blurbs. I have to admit, regrettably, that I had to resort to skimming many of the later pages as the 399 pages continued to refrain from riveting me. I hope that many of you find more entertainment in the novel... as I am sure there are many reader's out there that will love Contagion.
One thing for sure that Joanne Dahme shows us is how terrifying typhoid was back in 1895 - the fear and panic related to such a ravaging, deadly disease. And the way in which she portrays someone able to, perhaps, purposely poison people's water and cause an outbreak for their own gain is quite rattling. However, I did feel that even this part of Contagion was told to us, not shown... like most of the novel, from my view.
As the final quarter picked up a bit of speed, I did see the admirable quality of the narrative voice of Sean and Rose, yet they still never connected with me. And though by the end I recognized the nobility in Contagion and the possibility of someone loving it - that person was just sadly not me, not this time.
But please read Contagion for yourself and let me know what you think!