No Safe Harbor

Elizabeth Ludwig
October 2012, Inspirational Romance (1897 New York)
Bethany House, $14.99, 336 pages, Amazon ASIN 0764210394

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Kisses

Moving is a traumatic experience, especially if you are moving to a new area. Even as an adult, I always go through those moments of wondering if I will be able to adapt to my new community, if I can make new friends, if I will really be able to find a decent Chinese restaurant. We have been in the same place for close to twelve years and I can't imagine ever leaving at this point in time. It is home. That is why I am so impressed with those who came to America with nothing more than a few worldly goods and a dream, like the heroine in No Safe Harbor.

Cara Hamilton sails from Ireland for America on a slim hope. She thought her brother was dead for over a year; now she has a letter from him telling her to come to the States, but to trust no one. With her parents dead and no other relatives to lean on, she is anxious to reconnect with her twin and be part of a family once more. But Cara, who has little money, has no idea what she will do once she reaches the city. She doesn't even have a place to stay. Fortunately, she makes a friend aboard ship who directs her to a respectable boarding house, and she meets Roarke Walsh on the ferry from Ellis Island to the mainland, who helps her find the house and get settled in.

Roarke had been on Ellis Island to enact a vendetta. When he sees the lovely Cara, he is afraid she might be an important piece of his tangled web. He is happy enough to find her a pretty girl to share time with on the ferry but is disconcerted by the fact that innocent as she seems, she is a Hamilton. A Hamilton killed his father and his entire family has been in New York looking for the murderer for a good long while. Could Cara be related to the killer? She hails from the same hometown and has the same red hair as the man for whom he searches. Roarke finds himself giving her a false last name and taking on a false identity to be around her. Roarke Turner becomes Roarke Walsh, an Irish immigrant just starting out in New York.

Coming to America proves surprisingly easy for Cara, whose boarding home buddies find her a job and most of whom become her fast friends. For many, the miracle of that transition would have been enough but for Cara it is merely a beginning. She needs to find her brother. She reluctantly involves her new friend Roarke in the hunt. This results in the two forming a very tentative friendship drenched in secrets. Cara can tell no one of her brother per his instructions, for reasons she doesn't even know. Roarke can tell Cara nothing about his own family, lest Cara actually be related to the killer and warn him of their coming vengeance. Unbeknownst to the two, both of them have people determined to do them harm circling them as they go about their daily lives. Much of the book is spent with the two of them in a slow, verbal sword fight. They feint, they parry, they thrust, they retreat, they start over. Cara searches the docks for her brother, using her love of the sea as an excuse for having Roarke escort her there. Roarke talks to the men waiting for jobs, claiming they are too rough a lot for Cara to be exposed to but mostly making sure no one gets the chance to tell Cara who he really is. We spend a lot of time in this holding pattern, with Cara doing small things to find her brother and Roarke accompanying her to learn what she knows and also to prevent her from learning about him.

The remainder of our time is spent following them about their daily business. Cara goes to work, goes home and engages in some arguments with the house bully. Roarke stalks Cara, flirts with her and gets into arguments with his combative cousin who seems oddly determined to kill Cara and her brother. We learn some of the history of the Irish immigrants and how they lived which is fascinating but doesn't really move the story forward. We learn about Irish politics, which ties in to the story but since neither of our characters really seems to care about, that the information contains almost no real interest for us.

The story seems oddly out of balance with its primary characters. The tale revolves around the intrigues, dangers and violence of the Irish political situation. But the characters are kind, gentle people who just want to go about living a simple, ordinary life. Roarke has to be constantly goaded into his quest for vengeance. Cara thinks constantly about her brother, loves him deeply but has no idea how to perform a furtive search to find him. She is mostly waiting for him to contact her. This leaves us strangely inactive for most of the novel. This inactivity made it hard for me to maintain an interest in the story. It wasn’t as though it was frustrating me so much as it simply wasn’t engaging.

The bright spot was that I did like Roarke and Cara, who were hard working, mostly intelligent, kind people. They might not have been very suited for cloak and dagger antics but few of us ordinary folk really are. I believed in their love story because they were so very well matched. I could see them happily living in a little home, taking pride in simple things like the craftsmanship of their furniture and the beauty of the flowers in their yard. They would have good friends and raise a loving family. I can't help wishing that the novel had concentrated on that rather than the mystery of who killed whom.

In the end I found the story well written with likable characters. Anyone looking for a peek at the Irish immigrant experience at the turn of the century will find much to enjoy in the novel. But the slow pacing didn't suit the mystery and keeps me from giving it a whole hearted recommendation.

-- Maggie Boyd

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