Book Reviews

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May brings us a sequel to a mystery first published in 1987, and a wonderful historical novel whose protagonist is an Albany midwife. Settle in for a month of good reading!

Scott Turow is a lawyer from Chicago with a law degree from Harvard. Before heading to law school, he was awarded a creative writing fellowship at Stanford University; his writing career has since produced seven best-selling novels and two works of non-fiction, all the while maintaining his partnership in a Chicago law firm. His first bestseller was Presumed Innocent, in which Rusty Sabich, a former deputy prosecuting attorney finds himself accused of the vicious rape/murder of a former colleague, who also happened to be his former lover. The twists and turns of the plot are brilliant, and the reader is unsure of whether or not Rusty is guilty or if he will be wrongfully convicted of the murder. The ending is sheer genius. Innocent, this month’s sequel, is just as good, but to fully appreciate the depth and artistry of the story, you have to have read Presumed Innocent first. In the new novel, Rusty is once again accused of murder, this time his wife’s. The prosecutor from his previous trial is determined to nail Rusty on this murder because he is convinced that justice wasn’t served 20 years ago. The investigation, the courtroom theatrics and the behind-the-scenes drama make for another gripping legal thriller. This will be one of the biggest books of the summer!

My Name is Mary Sutter is the debut historical novel by Robin Oliveira, a native of Loudonville, who now lives in Seattle. It starts on the eve of the American Civil War. Mary Sutter is an Albany midwife who yearns to be a surgeon, but whose hopes of further medical education are repeatedly dashed by the administrators of Albany Medical College. When a call for nurses is sent out by Dorothea Dix, Mary heads for Washington, DC to volunteer her services as a nurse in hopes of learning more. Despite being refused by Miss Dix, Mary is soon installed as a nurse/housekeeper/ maid/janitor/surgical assistant in a DC hospital, learning much more than she expected about disease, surgery and other hardships of war. Oliveira alternates the action between Albany and DC, keeping the reader apprised of what is happening on the home front while Mary is coping with the influx of wounded soldiers returning from disastrous battles in the early part of the Civil War (which largely went against the Union Army.) 

In another instance of authors writing what they know, Oliveira is a registered nurse specializing in critical care, so the medical scenes, both obstetrical and surgical, are vivid and immediate. One of the strengths of the novel is the way the author shows how much the war affected everyday life throughout the nation. Today, we have a war in which a small percentage of the population has an immediate stake in the outcome, but in the Civil War, in which regiments were composed of men from the same towns and villages,­ and in which not going to war was considered a sign of cowardice, all families had a stake in every battle. Mary Sutter’s determination to become a surgeon despite facing the horrors of war is inspirational and her determination mirrors that of the soldiers who are fighting to preserve the Union. Abraham Lincoln, his secretary John Hay and Dorothea Dix all make cameo appearances, allowing the author to add more historical detail than Mary’s story alone would allow. If you have an interest in Albany’s history or an interest in the Civil War, My Name is Mary Sutter is an excellent choice.

Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.

 

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