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IL Review- The Old Shelter

Feb. 21, 2019

“You know, Peggy, watching you work, I’ve realized that Jack was right. You’re definitely not a Margaret. A Margaret wouldn’t have crawled under the sink. And a Margaret certainly wouldn’t have used that language when the wrench slipped.”
Peggy blushes.
“But, I don’t think a Peggy would have done that either. A Peggy would have waited until her young man could look after it. She would have wrung her hands and moaned about not being able to wash her hair or some such thing.” Peggy snaps her dish towel at him. “And a Peggy certainly wouldn’t have done that.”
Grinning, she snaps it again.
“No,” Frank continues, “I think that a modern, independent woman who fixes her own plumbing, looks after her son and a house full of lodgers, pays her bills, and still has time to glance in the mirror to fix her hair is definitely a…”
The towel dangles between the two of them.
“… definitely a Maggie.”
“Maggie?” She tries out the new name. “Maggie. I like it.” The towel becomes a flag; she waves it in the air. “Well, since I’m changing my life, maybe it’s time I changed my name again. Maggie Barnes, landlady.”
“In a Maggie, there’s a Margaret’s spine and a Peggy’s bounce. Yes, you’re definitely a Maggie.”
“A new name for my new life. Not father’s daughter or Jack’s wife. A person in my own right, steering my own course.” Maggie laughs delightedly. “Maggie Barnes. I think I’ll keep it.”

Innocence Lost is the first novel in the 5-book Bootleggers Chronicles, a 1920s crime series set in Philadelphia. Although it is clearly the starting of a series, with all the required introductions of characters and situations, it is also a great novel on its own right, centered around the death of a young boy and the investigation going on – and not going on – around it. But don’t expect to get all the answers at the end. We’re invited for a long ride.

Sherilyn Decter is clearly and enthusiastic historian. Her 1920s Philadelphia is vivid and living and I loved that she focused on everyday life rather than the big events of that time. This story is mostly about normal people trying to get though another day, though it is also about how those people choose to go through that day. It’s about choices and responsibilities. Yes, in short Maggie is one of us, a very true person in a very realistic and relatable world.

As a first novel in a series, this focuses on the main character, Maggie, very much. There is a big cast of characters, but most of them remain in the background while Maggie takes centre stage. There is a strong feeling, though, that a few of them – even the ones that only ‘appear’ here – will grow into more than strong supporting characters in the novels to come. I like this building up, this expectation. I generally like stories with many characters because they create a sense of community, not just of place but also of culture and I think this is where this story is going.

There is also an element of supernatural and I enjoyed that. It’s very mild, to the point I wouldn’t say this is a ghost story. It’s more definitely a historical novel. But I like this element of fantasy that goes beyond the ‘normality’ of the rest of the story.
I can’t wait to read the rest of this series.