One woman's search for the truth of her sister's disappearance leads her to deceit and danger in 1893 Chicago. Rosalind Perry has left her family's rural farm in Wisconsin to work as a housemaid at Sloane House, one of the most elegant mansions in Gilded Age Chicago. However, Rosalind is not there just to earn a living and support her family-she's at Sloane House determined to discover the truth about her sister's mysterious disappearance. Reid Armstrong is the handsome heir to a silver fortune. However, his family is on the periphery of Chicago's elite because their wealth comes from "new money" obtained from successful mining. Marriage to Veronica Sloane would secure his family's position in society-the lifelong dream of his ailing father. When Reid begins to realize that Rosalind's life may be in danger, he stops thinking of marriage prospects and concentrates on helping Rosalind. Dark things are afoot in Chicago and, he fears, in Sloane House. If he's not vigilant, Rosalind could pay the price. Set against the backdrop of Chicago's Gilded Age and the 1893 World's Fair, Secrets of Sloane House takes us on a whirlwind journey of romance and mystery.
Sisters Rosalind & Miranda had a humble upbringing on a Wisconsin farm. In 1893, the year the World's Fair was being held in Chicago, Miranda finds herself a position as a housekeeper at the Sloane House mansion in Chicago, Illinois. Her early letters home are full of enthusiasm and excitement for her new position and funny stories of the "below stairs" staff. After a few months though, the tone of her letters turns more serious and sometimes mysteriously cryptic. Then Miranda goes missing. Miranda's employers just assume she took off to another town, not pushing for much of an investigation.
That's not good enough for Miranda's family. Her sister Rosalind, keeping quiet about her connection to Miranda as to avoid unwanted questioning or suspicion, gets herself a job at Sloane House (the same position as her sister) in order to begin her own investigation into Miranda's whereabouts. Since no one suspects Rosalind of being Miranda's sister, the staff of Sloane House feel free to discuss what they really thought of Miranda... to Rosalind's surprise, some of it is not so nice. The way the gossip on Miranda flies around once it gets started, Rosalind starts to feel that it's unlikely that there is anyone left on staff who can be trusted with being privy to her secret mission.
Rosalind quickly finds herself caught up not only in the secrets and scandals of Sloane House, but also the new dangerous, criminal threat that comes with the influx of people coming to Chicago to see the World's Fair. She develops a friendship with Reid Armstrong, heir to a massive silver fortune. Though she's hesitant to trust anyone she works with, Rosalind finds herself at ease around Reid, though she can't explain why exactly. After one conversation in which Rosalind divulges why she's really in Chicago, Reid dedicates himself to helping her track down Miranda. Rosalind is also surprised to find another unlikely ally in Reid's mother. Uncommon for the times, Reid's mother (though a member of the upperclass herself) puts more stock in a person's character than their financial worth.
The deepening connection between Reid & Rosalind causes a flaming jealousy in Veronica Sloane, the daughter of Rosalind's employers. So much so that Veronica goes above and beyond scheming up ways to get Rosalind out of Sloane House. Rosalind, simply annoyed at first, gradually becomes more concerned with the intensity of Veronica's ire. If Rosalind loses her position at Sloane House, she will lose her cover for being in Chicago, and then what is she to tell her parents regarding their missing daughter?
Though this mystery series falls under the genre of Christian fiction, the religious element is very mild for the most part... however there were a few scenes where the topic of religion felt more forced and sort of shoved in there just to keep it within its religious bracket. For fans of Erik Larson's Devil In The White City, this novel is based in some of the same history and has a similar feel of mystery when it comes to the plot trying to explain what's going on behind the disappearances of multiple women (but Larson's book is a nonfiction read, btw).
I particularly enjoyed the friendship that develops between Rosalind and Reid. It seemed to progress at a realistic pace and there was just the right blend of sensitivity and strength to Reid that definitely kept me turning pages to see how their friendship would turn out in the end.
There was a bit of a surprising twist near the end that I would've never guessed, but for the most part there was just not quite enough mystery or edge for much of the story. I felt the potential but it mostly played a little too safe for me. Still, I developed interest enough to continue with the series and see where Gray takes her readers next.
POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: Within the plot, there is one very brief scene describing sexual assault (mostly strangulation and forced kissing after shot-down advances). Further description, though not said explicitly, hints that the attack might have progressed to full-on rape. (P.S. This scene is not the twist I was speaking of earlier in the review, btw)