Sometimes we pick up a book and have a totally different reading experience than we expected. I checked out 47 Sorrows: a Thaddeus Lewis Mystery because it was a Canadian historical mystery written by a Canadian author. What more could one ask for? Janet Kellough certainly delivers on those expectations, but there is a whole different element to this book.
Her story starts with a body being discovered on the beach. It is set in southern Ontario in the mid-1800s. Young Luke Lewis is travelling from his brother’s homestead near Lake Huron to Montreal to train as a doctor. This is where the book becomes much more than I expected. Luke stops in Kingston to assist the doctors, nuns and volunteer workers who are dealing with the influx of Irish immigrants. Thousands have fled the potato famine, many of them suffering from typhus. Luke and his father Thaddeus do solve the mystery of the body on the beach, but this becomes secondary to the plight of the immigrants.
I have often heard of the potato famine and the Irish immigration of that time, but this book raised my awareness of the plight of the immigrants as their lives and families are torn apart by the epidemic. I might have guessed that this would not be a happy read by the title – 47 Sorrows – but I am glad that I read it. This look at history brings a greater understanding of the dislocation suffered by the immigrants of that time and by the experience of many in modern times.