In November, I reviewed a romance anthology for book 55 in this series: How the Dukes Stole Christmas, which included novellas by four different authors. I’d read books by three of the authors. The fourth, Joanna Shupe, was new to me, and I liked her novella enough that I bought Baron, which is part of her Knickerbocker Club series.
The heroine is “Madam Zolikoff,” a medium who pretends to connect with the spirit world. It’s a job Ava Jones undertook because it was the best way to support herself and her three siblings, and to save money for her dream of moving them all out of New York City during the so-called Gilded Age, which left a lot of non-gilded people out in the cold.
One of her clients is a man running for governor. He’s not the hero. Instead, it’s William Sloane, a railroad baron who will become his lieutenant governor if elected. He knows that any whiff of scandal, including his candidate employing a medium, could derail both of their political careers, so Baron sets out to shove Zolikoff out of the picture. Instead, he falls in love with Ava, the real woman under the makeup and wig.
I worried at first that the book was going to romanticize the robber baron era, but Shupe manages to keep things real, mostly through writing about the ridiculousness of the marriage market during this time, and show the real pain Sloane suffered at the hands of his father. I read Baron much faster than I do most romance novels because I wanted to find out what happened (even though, of course, I know that the hero and heroine would have their happily ever after — or else this wouldn’t be a romance novel). I liked it enough I ordered another book in the series.
If you’d like to more about mediums during this era, I highly recommend the “Ghost Racket Crusade” episode of the podcast Criminal, about fight that ended the friendship between Sherlock Holmes and Henry Houdini. Yes really.
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