Monday, March 3, 2014

Colleen Coble's "Butterfly Palace": a Gilded Age thriller

Serial killers, assassination plots, hidden passageways, obsessions - Colleen Coble's Gilded Age thriller has it all.  Lily Donaldson lost her father several years ago in a fire that also killed her fiance's father.  In his self-imposed guilt, Andrew left her and she had not heard from him since . . . until she got a job as a kitchen maid in a wealthy Austin home, where he turns out to be a guest.  However, nothing is as it seems: Drew is hiding his identity, chasing the man who may have set the fire.  Strange noises come from the walls.  People hide behind layers of deceit.  And someone in the city is targeting blonde serving girls as victims of his serial murders. 

Butterfly Palace  -     By: Colleen Coble
As a historical novel set in early 1900's - approaching the era of Downton Abbey - there was a fair amount of upstairs-downstairs action, but the rules seemed much more relaxed than one will find in most fiction of the same era, with more informality between masters and servants.  Granted, this novel takes place in Austin, Texas, not England or the East Coast, where rules were apt to be more stringent. 

While the murders and plots are solved, I do not think everything else is completely wrapped up at the end.  I would have liked to see Lily and Drew have more conversations about their poor choices in the past, which would probably benefit their future.  Some other things, like baby Hannah and the Marshall family, were neglected at the end, but, as Coble tends to write in series, it is my hope that there will be a second book forthcoming - hopefully about Belle, who turned out to be my favorite character.  Such was not the case at first - I was prepared to dislike her intensely - but she has a lot of potential and grew on me, and I would love to see where her story goes.  Perhaps somewhere with Nathan . . . (pure speculation on my part). 

I had not thought it possible to make butterflies creepy, but Coble managed it.  Not terrifying - nothing to give one nightmares - but not exactly blissful little bundles of color fluttering from flower to flower.  I liked the tone of the novel - Coble did a good job setting up a mysterious and spooky atmosphere while not losing the feel of the era - everything gilded and pretty on the outside, hiding the dark and sinister underneath.  4 out of 5 stars!

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