Friday, April 12, 2019

Continuing spotlight on Sylvia Bambola, with The Daughters of Jim Farrell!

...From this perch on “their” hill, Kate saw a billowing cloud of sooty-looking smoke that made her heart plummet. The last time she saw something this large the William Penn mine had exploded, killing five. Many claimed that Pennsylvania coal country took one anthracite worker a day, through injury or death. But here, in Schuylkill County, home of the most dangerous anthracite mines in the world, she knew the number was often higher. 
When she opened the window the deafening shriek of the breaker whistle filled the room. “Is it the Sherman?” Mrs. Clayton repeated. 
Kate put her arm around the trembling woman. Only yesterday, Widow Clayton told everyone how her grandson was promoted to fire boss at the Sherman Colliery. 
“No. The smoke is further west. It’s got to be the Mattson.”
“I think you’re right,” Virginia said, wiping her wet hands on a rag. “The Miner’s Journal has been predicting trouble for weeks, ever since the railroad took over the Mattson. And a few days ago some of their coal cars were derailed and the mine boss got a ‘coffin notice’.” 
“Could just be fire damp,” said Colonel Smyth, a retired Union officer who had distinguished himself at Vicksburg. “The miners are always grumbling about the marsh gas at the Mattson.” 
“Or maybe it’s a cave in,” said Miss Rodgers, the spinster piano teacher who, some say, was once a famous stage personality. 
“Aren’t most mining accidents caused by falling roofs?”
“It’s no cave-in. And not fire damp, either,” said Clarence Thumbolt, a retired railroad man. “It’s the Mollies. Who else would send a coffin notice? It was a warning there’d be trouble. And no one can conjure up more trouble than that bunch. This is their doing, mark my words.”

“If it is, perhaps they have a reason,” returned Jasper Wright, the new dentist from Philadelphia who seldom left the boardinghouse before ten to open his office. 
“And what would you know about these troublemakers? Being an out-of-towner and all,” demanded Thumbolt. 
“I’ve been associated with these parts for more than thirty years and could tell you stories that would curl your hair. Why, just a few years back didn’t the Mollies assassinate Patrick Burns, foreman of the Silver Creek Colliery? A good man, too. Killed him because he caught them stealing from the company. And two years ago it was poor Morgan Powell. The Mollies killed him just for being a Welshman! You don’t want to get on the wrong side of that bunch. Believe me, they could bring down a whole mine if it suited them.” 
Jasper Wright jutted his chin as he secured one of the small pearl buttons of his gray waistcoat. “Sometimes bad conditions produce bad men, sometimes."
“Whatever the cause, it’s sure to be serious.” Mother said, ending the conversation. “Kate, get my ointments and some clean rags. We need to go.” “I’ll come, too,” Virginia said. 
“No, just Kate. Her stomach isn’t as queasy as yours. No telling what we’ll see. You stay and finish scrubbing the knives with brick dust, then make that sassafras solution for Charlotte.” She lowered her voice. “And see that Charlotte washes down all of Mrs. Clayton’s furniture.”

2016 READERS' FAVORITE BRONZE AWARD WINNER for Christian Historical Fiction

The Daughters of 
  Jim Farrell

By Sylvia Bambola

Many of my relatives have worked in the coal mines--one uncle, I remember, had to crawl in to his work area and stay on his knees during the time he was working... I learned from this significant historical story that they were called Monkey Holes at that time and were assigned to those less in favor... We learn that the Irish workers were often chosen for these jobs and trouble was stirring...  The Molly McGuires was a secret organization of Irish coal miners in Pennsylvania and in other areas. We learn that many of the things that happened were often blamed on the Mollies... I enjoyed having the opportunity to read about those early times in my home state...

But there is so much more complexity to the novel than expected. The basic thrust of the mystery which will be solved is that the father, Jim Farrell, of an important family, was charged and hanged for murder. His wife and daughters were forced to convert their home into a boarding house, with his wife, moving quickly to convert as many rooms as possible into living quarters for renters. Even the daughters had given up their own bedrooms. Much of the book shares about how hard they worked to maintain and provide quality service for those who now lived in their previous home.

But none of the daughters were happy in the change of their circumstances--they were now looked down upon and rejected by the elite of the town. Only Charlotte had maintained some connection since she had been involved with the son of one of the important families. But his mother made it quite clear to Charlotte that she was working to break off their arrangement! In the meantime, it took all of them to clean, cook, and serve meals.

Kate, the oldest daughter had never gotten over her father's death, nor the shame that came with the family now being social outcasts. Her mother had requested that they move on and live as best they could. But Kate wanted to find out who had actually killed the man for whom her father had hanged. And she wanted to clear the unwarranted shame from their family name. She wanted to hire a Pinkerton Detective... and was asking her sisters for money. Charlotte finally gave her the $10 she'd been saving for her trousseau but Virginia was not quite so willing to give up her savings to purchase a printing press, since she planned to start a town newspaper...

The sight of both sisters so downcast pricked Kate’s heart. Love is patient, love is kind, love doesn’t seek its own way, she heard her mother’s voice drone in her head. Oh, why was she always trying to get her way? 
Why was she so headstrong? Her sisters were right, she was a bully. That would explain why it was so easy for her to overlook their feelings: Charlotte’s broken heart and Virginia’s dashed dreams. Oh what a wretch I am. And was Mother right too? In saying Kate had allowed a root of bitterness to take hold? 
What did bitterness look like, exactly? Did it look like tall gallows, and the bound and hooded body of her father dangling at the end of a rope? She closed her eyes. Was it so wrong to seek justice? 
“I’m sorry about Mrs. Gaylord,” Kate said, opening her eyes and looking at Charlotte. “And I’m sorry about your newspaper,” she added, turning to Virginia. 
Life had been much simpler when Father was alive.

The Pinkerton Agency had already earned national attention. Kate felt they needed to go out of town for help, since the railroads, the mine owners and business owners in town seemed to be in control of everything. 

Joshua Adams arrival to town was not a happy one...First of all, he wasn't the respectable-looking older man who could be trusted and depended on... Instead, his appearance was startling to the entire family!

He carried a bulging, scruffy carpetbag and wore a brown, wide-brimmed felt hat that only countrymen or farmers wore. His black, double-breasted frock coat had sloping shoulders and opened to reveal a rumpled, beige waistcoat with notched collar. Around his neck was a black silk cravat, loosely tied. His beige trousers flared at the bottom and only partially covered his boots. Flared trousers had gone out of style years ago; so had sloping shoulders; and a farmer’s hat . .
Joshua was not the man they had expected--that they had given up their hard-earned savings to hire. None were happy, but Kate felt they had to proceed since he was assigned to their case... Then Joshua made it worse, by telling the four women that he wanted them to say he was a visiting cousin so he could work incognito. That really separated him further, since as good Christian women, they did not lie and were upset that he had even asked...

But none of them wanted to forfeit their money...The investigation began... While the life of the community continued, with the four women busily working to serve their boarders... Except, lots of different activities started affecting each of the daughters. Kate was being proposition because of her lowered status... Charlotte was afraid of never marrying into the type of social family where she was most comfortable, while Virginia started writing articles for a newspaper that upset people in town...  

Of course, the three daughters each had to deal with the romantic side of their lives... It was interesting to watch as each of them moved forward into finding their lives as women, independent, and able to make their own decisions. One character I particularly found compelling was a young boy whose hand and part of his arm had been ripped off as a breaker boy. We meet him because the only thing he could do to work was to do errands for the town's people...and one of the sisters in particular.

The investigation keeps readers guessing and relationships tend to result in dangerous or uncomfortable situation for the daughters, until one was actually kidnapped...

Bambola inserts mining terminology into the narrative with no difficulty and readers learn much about actual mining operations...and accidents that have occurred for various reasons. The Christian aspect is not as prominent in this novel as in others--but rather, inserts moral issues and decisions as they are relevant to the story itself. The murder mystery merged within the takeover of independent mines by the railroad is extensive and reveals the various ways by which criminal actions are peripheral to the dirty, dangerous, and hard work of those who actually work the mines, together with those family members who care for them and constantly pray that they will see them come home at the end of each day.

For me, this was historical fiction at its finest, combined with a mystery as well as romantic suspense. I could have been happier with a different ending, but, then, that apparently was not what God had planned for the three daughters of Jim Farrell. Read this author! She's a fantastic writer, with a different story to tell in each book. Her variety of topics brings a new adventure and I find I keep going back to read more...So, do check out all my reviews by searching on the author's name. All are definitely recommended 

Watch for my review of her first nonfiction book on Monday, with a followup article by the author...


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