Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-61922-743-9
Historical Romance, 2015
Is that the author’s lovely face on the cover art? I see some resemblance, and if it is really the author, that’s really cool. A Treasure of Gold pairs a mismatched couple – church-going goody-two-shoes Nettie Bledsoe and a gangster, or policy man Jabez “Jay” Evans, and the result is almost magical. Almost, that is. The author often resorts to twists and turns that inadvertently make her characters look dense.
Nettie helps to run the charity kitchen of the Freedom Christian Church in the town of Pittsburgh. It is 1923, and the Great Migration sees more and more African-Americans coming in to that city every day, all of them seeking hope and needing comfort and charity. A newcomer herself, she is determined to do all she can to provide these to those in need. One fine day, she walks to the church on her own, just like Little Red Riding Hood, I guess, when she hears a strange sound. No, it’s not the big bad wolf… well, not exactly. Jay Evans is wounded. Fortunately, Nettie’s brother-in-law is a doctor who can tend to him, although Jay’s concerns are more for his daughter.
Also, Jay remembers Nettie. As a rich man who made his money from… er, dubious ways, he is ostracized by his own people, so he views them as snobs. However, two years ago, when his wife was dying and wanted to be baptized before her time came, it was Nettie and another woman who came to his wife’s side, and it was Nettie’s haunting singing during the moment that lingered in his memory. At the same time, he blames Nettie for his wife’s death – Nettie told the dying woman that she’d get better, and then Clara died, so he considers Nettie a “murderer”. Okay, let me explain a bit.
Nettie spent her younger days as part of the revival scene, moving from town to town under the care of a Brother and a Sister. She is a faith healer of sorts, having had a “special kind of commune with the Lord”, which means she also hears a gentle voice in her head now and then to tell her to do counter-intuitive things that will help move the plot along, like walking into the darkened alley where Jay is shot when any sensible lady would think twice before stepping in there. God is a very convenient plot device, if you think about it. Anyway, this is why Jay considers Nettie a “murderer” – she failed his wife after promising to her that she would get better.
The thing is, Jay is a self-professed atheist. Therefore, for him to accuse Nettie of somehow being a murderer, a proxy for the failure of the religion his late wife believes in, that’s a bit hard for me to buy. I feel that, in this story, Jay should have been a lapsed Christian, so that his reasons for ragging on Nettie would make more sense.
At any rate, Jay decides that Nettie would be a convenient solution when it comes to finding a reliable help to care for his daughter, so he offers to pay her if she would care for and feed his daughter at the charity kitchen while he does his thing. Nettie is of course inclined to care for the daughter as she’s such a sweet and nice person. But her sister’s baby is due any time soon, so Nettie can’t commit herself to taking care of Goldie. But still, the thought of Goldie left all alone in that big house chills her warm heart, so she ends up agreeing to be Goldie’s nanny. I’m sure you can tell where the story is heading.
The author falls into the same trap that caught many authors that pair a sweet, idealistic lady to a bad boy: she has Nettie immediately insisting that Jay is “misunderstood” (she actually uses that word). She feels it, she knows it, you see. Coupled this to the author’s tendency to have her characters lust at inappropriate moments – Nettie sees Jay with a gunshot wound and immediately wonders what it’d be like kissing him (I’d imagine it’d be uncomfortable, as the front of her dress would get soaked and it can be a toughie to get rid of bloodstains from fabrics). Or that, when his wife was dying, Jay could only look at the singing Nettie and getting funny feelings about her. Way to go, hero! At any rate, such moments and Nettie’s insistence that Jay is actually a good man because she knows all make Nettie seem like someone who is trying very hard to justify her hormonal stirrings as some kind of noble duty approved by Jesus.
I feel that it’d be better if the author had Nettie instead thinking that, say, she senses that there is good in Jay, that he can be redeemed if she could help him find his way. The current “She knows he’s a good man, she knows!” thing only makes poor Nettie look addled.
I am also not sure why Nettie’s sister Ruby and Ruby’s husband would treat Nettie, who is twenty-three, as if Nettie is a child who can’t be trusted to walk outside the house without supervision. Their behavior forces Nettie to go behind them now and then, and the whole thing feels like a contrived device to give me the impression that Nettie and Jay together is such a forbidden concept. That’s nice, but because the whole thing doesn’t feel natural, it feels too much like a contrivance.
At any rate, A Treasure of Gold has some beautiful scenes full of tenderness and bittersweet moments, but the emotional aspects of the story feel less authentic than I’d have liked.