Full disclosure, I’ve never read a so-called Christian fiction title before. I thought I’d stretch my horizons a bit, and the history of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 always fascinated me. The story begins shortly before the conflagration and we meet Mollie and Zack, (seeming) opposites who attract. Mollie is a businesswoman with a mission, to keep her late father’s company afloat especially since it employs a ragtag bunch of Civil War veterans formerly part of the 57th Illinois, her father’s old infantry unit. She has a business relationship with Zack the Scariest Lawyer in Town who represents her largest client in town, Hartman’s department store. Everything hums along status quo until the fire hits and all bets are off. Zack and Mollie are thrust together throughout the fire and along the way collect more assorted characters, including a spoiled young girl and a lonely dentist. From then on the book descends into typical “will they or won’t they get together?” stuff amidst the backdrop of somewhat nefarious business deals. The characters of Zack and Mollie are probably the best well-written in the book, which is good, because their romance is sweet. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the secondary or tertiary characters, which border on the outskirts of cliché. While the point of the book is probably to illustrate the egalitarian spirit engendered by the fire, with the rich and poor rubbing shoulders, sometimes literally during the fire and its aftermath, some of the situations seem a bit contrived, especially with the addition of the character of Colonel Lowe as Zack’s rival and Polish immigrant girl Anka as Mollie’s. These additions only ratchet up the annoyance factor. The historical detail is very good and well-researched, and for that reason the book hums along, especially since there are few stories that cover this particular point of history. I didn’t wince too much at the Christian ideals espoused; they were straightforward and not too preachy, although they too seemed a little thrown in. Personally, I would have liked a little more grit to the story, but that’s a matter of taste. Overall, this book is a light, pleasant read.
P.S. One big problem I have with this book is on the cover, and for that I don’t necessarily fault the author. As pictured behind the character of Mollie is an unmistakable view of the Rookery, a landmark of Chicago architecture that was completed in 1888, more than seventeen years after the events related in the story. Tsk, tsk.