Fever by Mary Beth Keane (expected publication date March 12, 2013)
I received a review copy from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley.
Fever is a fictionalized account of Mary Mallon, better known by the infamous handle of Typhoid Mary. Mary was an Irish immigrant in the early 20th century who had no symptoms of typhoid herself but who spread the disease through her work as a cook.
The main thread of Fever follows the historical account of the case, which by itself is riveting. Keane fills in the unknown details with plausible ones, and I liked how she integrated little-known facts about life at the time throughout her portrayal of turn-of-the-century New York. On the whole, the book is well-written and the characters are believable, if not always likeable.
The reason I am not rating this book more highly is because I found the pacing uneven. Wonderful passages of description or of interaction between characters would be followed by paragraphs that jumped back in time or that apparently encompassed a year or more in the timeline of the main story. These leaps were not signaled well in the prose; I hope that the final published copy can at least use formatting to help compensate for that. Keane could have done a better job at easing the reader into the time-warps and at spreading the detail more evenly throughout the narrative.
Readers interested in the New York City of the time period, or those with an historical interest in the immigrant experience of the time period, will enjoy Fever. I think Keane shows promise as an author, but I will probably only read more of her work if the basic story line is compelling. I won't find her writing alone quite enough inducement to pick up a book.