The Island of Doves

Written by Kelly O'Connor McNees
Review by Liz Allenby

1835. Young wife Susannah Brownell Fraser suffers physical and mental abuse at the hands of her wealthy husband, Edward. After he crushes her hand, she seeks the help of Sister Mary Genevieve. With her assistance Susannah flees Buffalo, headed toward Magdelaine Fonteneau, who runs a safe house for abused women and a school on Mackinac Island in Michigan Territory. She carries only a necklace as security. In the meantime, Sister Mary Genevieve tells Edward his wife has fallen into the river and leads him to believe she has disappeared over Niagara Falls.

On the boat Susannah is assisted by Father Milani, a drunken priest, who pays for her food. One morning when docked in Detroit she recognizes Wendell Beals, Edward’s employee, who had been on board since they had left Buffalo. Terrified he will recognize her and report her whereabouts to Edward, she escapes from the boat into the heart of Detroit. She attempts to sell the necklace at a goldsmith shop, but the jeweler tells her the stones are only imitation garnets worth nothing. Not trusting his estimate of their value, she slips out and finds herself sheltered in a brothel. The rest of the novel continues Susannah’s journey to Mackinac Island and Edward’s furious quest to discover her whereabouts.

The author captured my interest from the first page of description and action. The setting details of life aboard ship and daily life in a brothel teach us about the historical life and times of the early 1800s. Her characterization of Susannah and the prostitutes in Detroit is especially strong and compelling. The novel’s plot unfolds step by step with the backstory interwoven masterfully. We are in Susannah’s point of view, facing her dilemmas and fears, gaining understanding of the ways women faced the world ruled by men. A most enjoyable and page-turning tale.