PUBLICATION DATE: OCTOBER 01, 2012
o Safe Harbor
o Safe Harbor, by Elizabeth Ludwig, is a suspenseful historical fiction novel set in New York during the 1800s. Our main character is the likeable Cara Hamilton, who leaves her home in Derry, Ireland to find her brother, Eoghan. For years, she thought he was dead. But now she has received a letter from him, suggesting that he is in New York. Her brother’s letter warned her not to trust anyone, but she is alone in a strange land and must rely on others to help her. Will she trust the right people? Is the boardinghouse where she ends up living a safe place for her? What about the man she meets at Ellis Island, Rourke Walsh – or is his real last name Turner? Despite her brother’s warning, Cara confides in Rourke. He appears kind and he seems to want to help her — and it doesn’t hurt that he’s handsome. The problem is that Rourke isn’t who he claims to be. As Cara gets closer to her brother, danger lurks around the corner.
As the plot develops, Cara takes a job at a store owned by Mr. O’Bannon. She becomes friends with other women living in the boardinghouse. There are some suspenseful scenes when one of the women eavesdrops on Cara. The action heats up as we learn more about the Fenians, a group of Irish immigrants who may have violent intentions, mysterious men follow Cara around the city, and Cara gets more anxious to find Eoghan.
No Safe Harbor is a fun, suspenseful story with intriguing historical details. The plot is suspenseful. I was interested to see whether Rourke had true feelings for Cara, and if so, if he would change his mind and end up helping her.
Ludwig does a great job at setting the scene. Her descriptions of various buildings and areas in New York are vivid and detailed. I got a good sense for what New York must have been like during this time period, especially as seen through Cara’s eyes. The bias against the Irish seems realistic. For example, when Cara proposes becoming a governess, the owner of the boardinghouse, Mrs. Matheson, tells her that she probably won’t be able to find that sort of job since she is Irish. When Cara sees the Statue of Liberty, it is a touching scene.
Cara is a likeable heroine. Overall, she seems smart, although at times I questioned why she made certain decisions. I enjoyed how periodically Cara would recall words of advice from her mother: “It’ll be all right, lass. God’s help is nearer than the door.” She has a strong Christian faith, and she tells people that she doesn’t feel like an orphan because she has her faith in God.
The only problem is that the writing seems a bit cheesy at times. For example, the wind is “mischievous” and “heat fans” Cara’s cold cheeks “at the flirtatious gleam in his eyes.” When Cara is tired, her limbs are melancholy. Also, Cara plays with her hair a lot. She is constantly brushing it with her hands, “the coiled strands spiraled around her finger,” or her red curls tickling her neck. We hear quite a bit about her hair, more than is necessary.
Nonetheless, this is an entertaining and suspenseful story set during an interesting time period in history.