REVIEW: Drawn by the Current by Jocelyn Green
Lives depend on the truth she uncovers. She can’t give up her search.
A birthday excursion turns deadly when the SS Eastland capsizes with Olive Pierce and her best friend on board. Hundreds perish during the accident, and it’s only when Olive herself barely escapes that she discovers her friend is among the victims.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Olive returns to her work at a Chicago insurance agency and is immersed in the countless investigations related to the accident. But with so many missing, there are few open-and-shut cases, and she tries to balance her grief with the hard work of finding the truth.
While someone sabotages her progress, Olive accepts the help of newspaper photographer Erik Magnussen. As they unravel secrets, the truths they discover impact those closest to Olive. How long will the disaster haunt her–and how can she help the others find the peace they deserve?
CW – domestic violence, thoughts of suicide
Dear Ms. Green,
I will admit that it was the cover of the book that caught my eye but when I looked at the blurb I knew I wanted to read this book. I had no idea that women were investigators at insurance agencies in 1915 and Olive sounds like the kind of person who won’t give up when there’s something she knows needs to be solved. I also had no idea about the SS Eastland tragedy and wanted to know more. Though this is the third book in this series, I wasn’t lost and think other newcomers won’t be either.
Olive Pierce is an agent with the MetLife insurance company in Chicago but she wants to be more and do more. So far her boss is content for her to remain in the office selling policies while her male colleague goes out and actually investigates cases. But when Olive takes her best friend Claire along, with tickets given to her by a relative, on what should have been a day-long holiday for employees of the Western Electric Hawthorne Works, things turn deadly.
Before they even leave the dock, the ship carrying the holidaymakers capsizes with over 2500 people on board. Soon both women are struggling and fighting for their lives. To Olive’s horror her friend, whom Olive has just discovered is a victim of domestic violence, tells Olive she wants to give up and escape her life of abuse by remaining behind. Olive urges Claire to help her save two children but after Olive surfaces with them, Claire is nowhere to be found.
Returning to work the next day ready to help her clients file for the policies they will need to pay bills now that some breadwinners are dead, Olive pushes to be allowed to help investigate the staggering number of claims. Soon however, irregularities in these cases and others begin to catch her attention and that’s even before she realizes that her efforts are being sabotaged. Can she unravel what’s behind all this and keep a deadly secret, too?
One thing I immediately liked is that Olive is a career woman and a twenty-nine year old one at that. She takes pride in her job and in her work and wants to get a promotion she knows she’s earned. Olive is like a bloodhound on the trail but also has the instincts to nose out clues while putting two and two together. Once she’s given her word to a client, she intends to keep it. She’s also a wonderful friend to Claire and it’s only because of Claire’s controlling husband keeping Olive away that Olive wasn’t fully aware of why Claire had been making excuses to avoid seeing her and had missed the gradual change in her friend. The depiction of a victim of domestic violence is chilling.
The terror of the ship rolling over and the desperate struggle for survival was horrifying. I once watched a documentary about the sinking of a Scandinavian ferry which interviewed survivors who often mentioned that those who kept their heads and didn’t panic were the ones who made it out. Olive keeps her head and gets her motley band out but the nightmares and flashbacks haunt her. When water laps at her chin as she bathes the river stink off, her heart lurches. Her aunt – who survived the Great Chicago Fire – knows and helps Olive through the exhaustion and sudden emotional survivor guilt which follow. Grief is physical.
As Olive begins to look into clients still missing after the disaster, the full horror of how it will affect the working class victims – mainly tight knit members of the sprawling immigrant community in Chicago – dawns on her. Entire families are gone or are left with gaping holes in their lives. One case Olive works hardest on is of a young mother whose body has still not been found. Without closure, her family can’t move on nor will they get her life insurance payout until potentially years into the future when she’s finally declared dead. Unlike some of the awful stories I’ve heard recently about insurance companies doing everything to avoid paying benefits, Olive works hard for her clients.
Before long, Olive gets the help of a handsome photographer to help her look for clues and follow up on leads. Erik’s history as an orphan searching for family history makes Olive think more about her own supportive family and how lucky she’s been to have and know them all her life. But it also starts her pondering her role in the family dynamics and business. When she’s faced with planning her future, will she settle for what’s comfortable and will aid others or strike out for what she herself wants? I like the inclusion of this character growth for her and also for others but it also seemed to suddenly pop up. There is a sudden reveal towards the end that I didn’t see coming and I’m still conflicted on how I felt about it and how it was resolved.
The various threads that Olive is working on are well thought out and clues are sprinkled in as the book progresses. Everything made sense and nothing felt like a deus ex machina ending. Though I didn’t care for how one work situation ended, I have to admit that I can understand why a character did something and that this ended up giving Olive the push to follow her heart. Though this is an inspie, it’s more Inspie-Lite with characters occasionally mentioning their belief in God while not preaching at anyone. I’d also say the story edges more towards women’s fiction with a romance as it mainly focuses on Olive and is told from only her POV. Historical details are plentiful though not overwhelming.
I liked that Olive stood up for herself and went after what she wanted. She could have just knuckled under to the lack of support from her male boss and colleague but didn’t and insisted on seeing things through. Her struggles to separate her identity from her job were realistic. The domestic violence and aftermath of the ship disaster on victim remains might be hard to read about. When the story ends, Olive has found her heart’s desire and her future and I’m interested in going back and reading the previous books in the series. B