The Mystery of Mrs Christie
January 29, 2021

Book Review

The Nature of Fragile Things

Susan Meissner

San Francisco, 1906: Sophie Hocking is questioned by the US Marshal. Her husband is missing, and she waited six weeks after the San Francisco earthquake to report him missing. Why?

A year earlier: Sophie after emigrating from Ireland to NYC is now traveling to San Francisco. She is to marry a widower with a five-year-old daughter who placed an advertisement looking for a wife and mother to his child. He wanted someone from the East Coast where he was from. Someone he didn’t need to cuddle and who could step into a role he needed her to play.

As soon as she arrives in San Francisco, she notices his absence more than she anticipated, as he works for an insurance company which frequently takes him on the road. He seems to be taking care of lots of details; details he doesn’t name. She gets “accustomed to knowing very little about his stints on the road or even about his occupation…” until someone appears at her doorstep. A young pregnant woman is looking for her missing husband. Now, the questions are mounting.

I enjoyed the character of Sophie very much. You can hear the Irish when she rolls words off her tongue. When she describes her first steps as an immigrant—a very poor one—subletting a room the size of a pantry with four other tenants. You see it with your own eyes the hardship she experienced and what propelled her to answer to an advertisement and to travel across the country. You can feel her infectious love for the five-year-old girl. And you can feel her contagious excitement to meet her new neighbor across the street, only to realize that she is being treated as a charity case. She is a strong woman who doesn’t need a charity friendship. She wants real friends.

The aftermath of the earthquake is vividly presented, with aftershocks and with fires burning for three days resulting in a massive devastation of the city. The parks or any green space, or any pew in a church are filled with evacuees and injured. You can sense helplessness in finding someone missing. And witness some opportunistic people taking advantage of the situation and charging exorbitant fees for their services.

A seamlessly woven story with intricately developed characters that takes a reader on a fast-paced journey. Mystery unrolls with each page. It is engaging from the very first page to the very last one. The plotting convincingly immerses a reader in the events, both historical and fictional.