cover image The Nature of Fragile Things

The Nature of Fragile Things

Susan Meissner. Berkley, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-0-451-49218-0

Meissner (The Last Year of the War) spins an exceptional story about an Irish immigrant who lands in San Francisco shortly before the 1906 earthquake. After spending two years in New York City, Sophie Whalen, 20, answers a newspaper ad from widower Martin Hocking of San Francisco, who is seeking a wife for him and a mother for his daughter. Sophie falls head over heels for Martin’s five-year-old daughter, Kat, having given up having a child of her own, and looks forward to developing a bond with her new husband. But Sophie learns that all is not as it seems when a pregnant woman named Belinda Bigelow shows up on her doorstep hours before the earthquake, looking for her husband, James, who told Belinda he had business with Martin. Upon seeing a picture of Martin, Belinda recognizes him as James. This leads the two women to go through Martin’s papers, and they deduce he’d married both of them under different names. Unexpected and masterfully crafted twists and turns abound after the earthquake, as a federal marshall questions Sophie about Martin’s disappearance. The plucky and principled Sophie (who is hiding a few secrets of her own) captivates from the first page, while naive Belinda and sensitive Kat are standouts. Ingeniously plotted and perfectly structured, this captivates from beginning to end. (Feb.)