No Less in Blood is a debut novel by D. M. Pirrone, a Chicago author who will be appearing at Centuries and Sleuths bookstore on March 6, 2011. If you like Chicago history, especially from the turn of the century, this is a story you will enjoy. The pace is fast, the writing is good and the main characters are adequately interesting. However, you might end the book as I did, wishing that the author gave more depth to the male characters, had emphasized one time period over another or had written a longer book that allowed her to explore the stories more completely.
The novel careens between 1893 and 2007 with chapters ping-ponging back and forth between the years. Chicago and Minnesota provide the settings for the book. It opens with a murder, ends with a hostage situation and in between there’s a book burning, illegitimate births, children given up for adoption, fortunes made and lost, love and lust. All in about 350 pages. Whew!
I like the idea of combining the two centuries in one story and feel that the author does a nice job of changing tone, vocabulary and rhythm between the two time periods. Her careful attention to historical detail provides a scaffold for the turn of the century scenes without hitting the reader over the head. However, just as I was settling into an era, the narrative would switch forward or backward in time and I wasn’t always ready for the time change.
The 1893 story centers around a family drama—a 17 year old girl from a leading family in a small Minnesota town runs away to Chicago when she discovers she’s pregnant. Then she disappears. As the narrative unfolds, the mystery about Mary Ann’s fate is solved, but not without exposing the rigidity of her father, Andrew, the greed of her uncle, William, and the moral flabbiness of her cousin, Randolph.
The modern story revolves around a modest fortune which is to be split among the surviving descendants of Andrew and William in 2007, the one hundredth anniversary of Andrew’s death. There are three potential recipients, Jackson Schlegel, his granddaughter, Linnet, and Rachel Connelly, an adoptee who has recently discovered her birth family. Of the three, only Jackson is aware of the money and his greed puts both his granddaughter and Rachel in serious danger.
Pirrone provides convincing back stories for most of the characters, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out who Jackson’s father is and how he is a descendant of William. His greed seems a bit forced to me and his lack of ambition puzzling, given his abundant talent. The one character who is thinly drawn is the villain, Luke. I want to know how he got so twisted and sour on life. And I want at least a glimmer of explanation of how he manages to win the heart of the adventuresome Grace, who is Jackson Schlegel’s daughter.
At each appearance Luke seems like a man with major anger problems that should have landed him in jail or a mental hospital a long time ago. I think that Pirrone’s portrayal of the abusive relationship between Grace and Luke is spot-on but I would like to understand the reasons why Grace refuses to contact her father and where Luke’s sense of entitlement comes from.
Adoption and family identity are themes that run through this work but there are too many coincidences involved in the plot for me. I can accept one adoption and then being able to discover your family of origin, but when both Rachel’s grandfather and then she herself are adoptees and neither one has information about their birth family, it strains credulity that Rachel would ever have been able to untangle her roots, let alone with the ease with which the information falls into her lap. Just sayin’.
I also am not buying that Rachel looks exactly like her cousin, Grace, or her grandmother Mary Ann. I am from a huge extended family and I don’t look enough like any of them to make people do double-takes. There are families where the resemblance is striking, but that’s generally because of a hooked nose or deformed ear or some other distinctive facial feature. However, in the scheme of things, this is merely a quibble over details.
It seems as if the author has at least three books here: the story of Rachel’s self-discovery, the toxic family dynamics of the Schlegel family in the 1890s and the love story between the detective and the founder of a shelter for abused women. The detective love story gets short shrift although they are by far the most interesting romantic characters. I want to see more of them and to reach some resolution in their relationship and was surprised when the end came and they remained in limbo. Maybe they’re being saved for another installment.
It’s easy to see the influence of Regency romances on this plot but Rachel is not a damsel in distress who needs recue but a thoroughly modern heroine with lots of spunk who manages to save the day.
The book is available through Centuries and Sleuths and other book stores.