A Promise of Ruin

Written by Cuyler Overholt
Review by Valerie Adolph

Young Italian Teresa Casoria is one of hundreds of immigrants arriving daily in New York City early in the 20th century. She is full of hope as she looks for her beloved husband-to-be, Antonio, who has promised to meet her as she lands. But he is not there, and Teresa is kidnapped and forced into prostitution by the Black Hand gang, who are terrorizing the Italian community.

Meanwhile, psychiatrist Dr. Genevieve Summerford watches in horror as the body of an escaped prostitute is pulled from the East River where she has drowned herself rather than submit to her abusers any longer. A letter in her pocket identifies her as a recent arrival from Italy. So, when Genevieve is asked to investigate the disappearance of the Italian bride-to-be, she feels there might be a connection. Rapidly she is drawn into the heart of the Italian community, assisted by the man she loves—Tammany Hall fixer Simon Shaw—and his friends, including 11-year-old Frankie, whose driving ability exceeds her own. She tries to distinguish allies from adversaries until she suddenly finds herself far too deeply and personally involved in white slavery.

This book is absorbing on many levels, starting with the research into the life of immigrants in early 20th-century New York. This is revealed strategically so it never distracts the reader. It has a complex plot peopled with characters that have depth, humor and essential believability. It has an understated romance that lightens the mood. But its most unique aspect is the understanding of human emotions and the behaviors they engender. The writer exposes the wounds suffered by the women kidnapped into white slavery that go far deeper and are much more lasting than the physical.

A book to enjoy, but also to make one think. A keeper.