Out of the Shadows

Written by Joanne Rendell

Clara Fitzgerald is a professor specializing in the history of science at Manhattan U. Her mother died suddenly a few months ago and the only family she has left is her sister, Maxie. Her long-time fiancé is totally absorbed in his work to create a new drug for cancer and the couple has drifted apart. Clara’s mother, a librarian, had always maintained that the family was related to Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. When a DNA test confirms this, and Clara meets Kay McNally, a noted Shelley scholar, she begins a search for Mary Shelley’s lost journals and letters. At the same time, Clara becomes increasingly concerned that her ambitious fiancé may be resorting to unethical methods of testing his new drug. To further complicate things, Clara is attracted to Kay’s friend, Daniel.

The contemporary story alternates with Mary Shelley’s fictionalized journals covering her romance with Percy Bysshe Shelley, from the time she first meets him at her father’s home until they run away together when Mary is seventeen. The author weaves the themes of mother loss and the danger of scientific experimentation on humans through both stories.

One word of caution for historical fiction readers: most of the novel does take place in the present. One minor quibble: I found it implausible that the New York Public Library would allow a piece of Mary Shelley’s hair to be taken from their collection to be used for a DNA test. Rendell writes well about relationships and academic life, and I found this to be an entertaining and enjoyable story.