Mollie Knox’s 57th Illinois Watch Company makes the finest watches in the United States. Started by her father, Silas Knox, and named after his Civil War regiment, the company is legendary for their exquisite watches that only the wealthy can afford. It also employs a number of veterans of the 57th Illinois Regiment, and Mollie loves being able to provide jobs for these men, honoring her father’s memory and wishes at the same time.
When Zack Kazmarek, lawyer for Hartman’s, one of Chicago’s finest department stores, comes to Mollie with an offer from Hartman’s to buy out her company, Mollie is unsure what to do. Her good business sense tells her that the smartest move would be to accept this offer, but a niggling feeling of doubt makes her pause. Just as she is on the verge of accepting, she comes upon an old deed that casts doubt on the real motives behind Hartman’s proposal. Angry, Mollie confronts Zack, but the same night the Great Chicago Fire sweeps through the city and changes everything, including Mollie’s feelings for Zack. But as both the 57th Illinois Watch Company and Hartman’s store work to rebuild their businesses, the love that is growing between Mollie and Zack is in danger of crumbling.
Elizabeth Camden’s novels have become some of my favorites over the past few years, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review her latest offering, Into the Whirlwind. As I’ve come to expect with Camden’s work, the book was expertly researched and very well-written. Although I was familiar with the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, I learned a lot that I didn’t know about it, and as is usual with a Camden book, I was drawn into the story so much that I felt like I was there. Mollie Knox was one of my favorite of Camden’s female characters thus far--I admired her pluck and determination to rebuild her company and continue providing jobs for her father’s fellow veterans. I could also relate to her desire for an orderly and predictable life, and her trepidation about “riding the whirlwind” with Zack, although I also got frustrated with her for not seeing how "right" Zack was for her! I also really liked Zack--he was so confident and bold on the outside, but actually quite vulnerable where his love for Mollie was concerned. I enjoyed watching both of them grow in different ways throughout the book.
I only have a couple of small complaints about Into the Whirlwind . . . first, it did seem to be a little slower at grabbing my interest compared to Camden’s earlier books. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, but once the fire was over, it seemed to drag a little bit. I think this may have been purposeful, though--to kind of show how Mollie liked her life to move along slowly, compared to Zack’s attempts to keep shaking things up. I also would have liked to see more spiritual depth to the story . . . something that is one of my concerns about a lot of the Christian fiction I review. There was definitely a spiritual element, but a little more would have been nice.
As I mentioned earlier, one thing I really like about Elizabeth Camden’s books is how she draws the reader into the time period and the setting. Her last book, Against the Tide, was mostly set in Boston, while this one was set in Chicago . . . both large cities, but both completely different in the 1800s, as well as today. Living in New England, I could relate a bit more to the Boston setting, but reading Into the Whirlwind gave me a taste of what life would have been like just before and after the Chicago Fire, and also a great admiration for the courage and tenacity it took to rebuild the city. I would highly recommend any of Camden’s novels, and I give this one 4 out of 5 stars.
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