Published by Counterpoint LLC
Publication date: June 1st 2017
Call me vulgar, but when a book opens with a young woman, a father who’s dying of syphilis, missing money and a murderous ex-fiancé, I’m all in. It’s the early 1900s, the young woman is twenty-four-year-old Dulcy (short of Leda Cordelia Dulcinea) and her father, Walton Remfrey, is an eccentric but brilliant inventor and engineer with a penchant for women (hence the syphilis) and a love of travel. He partners with Victor, Dulcy’s ex-fiancé in a series of African gold mines, but when he returns to the United States after the sale of the mines there is no money and he is dying. Dulcy goes to Seattle to be with her father before he dies and to try and determine what has happened to over a million dollars, even though it means being near her sociopathic ex—who is even more unhinged at the loss of so much of his money. This is just the beginning of The Widow Nash by Jamie Harrison.
In short order, Walton dies without ever becoming lucid. Dulcy is allowed to take his body back East to be buried, but she already knows that Victor’s obsession with both her and the money means she is expected to return…and soon. She decides faking her death is the best way to get her freedom and begin her own search for the money. The only clue she has is a series of journals her father kept, which she managed to steal from Victor. That, plus access to other bank accounts he set up during the years they traveled together, is enough for her to establish herself in a small town in Montana and try and unravel her father’s mystery.
At this point in The Widow Nash the sensationalistic plot quiets down, which provides for some much needed breathing space and allows Harrison to bring Dulcy more fully to life. She does this with panache, infusing the outwardly quiet and cautious Dulcy with a modern mindset that makes for wonderful reading—mostly because it is refreshing to read about a woman who, on the one hand, has to pretend to be a widow to be accepted, but who is thinking things like this when being talked down to by a man:
If he’d explained his reasoning with humor, rather than condescension, she might have stayed sane; now she’d grind his bones to make her bread.
YES! With lines like these Harrison smashes the sweet society lady of yore and shows her to be as sick and tired of mansplaining as contemporary women are. More importantly, from beginning to end, Dulcy doesn’t just inwardly seethe—she takes her fate into her own hands and uses her innate resourcefulness to carve out a life of her own.
This juxtaposition of historical fiction, of time and place carefully crafted down to the smallest detail, against Dulcy’s very modern thoughts and actions is what moves The Widow Nash past its plot into something more. The only hitch is that in the shift the plot is lost for a bit. And while I appreciated seeing this woman reinvent herself I became concerned that the mystery and drama, the entertaining part of the novel, had been forgotten. Thankfully, Harrison didn’t forget at all and instead, rallied The Widow Nash to an ending that cements the novel firmly in place as a great summer entertainment.