Book Review: The Vines

Set on New York’s North Brother Island in multiple timelines, The Vines combines the sad story of Riverside Hospital for Quarantinable Diseases with the fictional Gettler family. The story opens with Finn Gettler in 2007. He is exploring the remains of Riverside Hospital and sees a beautiful but very scarred woman, who almost kills him. Flashing back to 1902, we meet Cora, who has been sent to the facility with her sister. Possessing unique genetic abilities, she eventually becomes a surgical guinea pig. The time periods move back and forth to different years between 1902 and 2007, as Finn begins to uncover the mystery of Cora and the dark secrets of his family.

This is a medical/psychological thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Cora’s story is intertwined with the true history of Riverside Hospital, including its connection to Mary Mallon, or “Typhoid Mary.” Riverside Hospital’s involvement in the rescue and recovery of passengers after the 1904 fire on the steamship General Slocum and its treatment of young drug addicts in the 1950s and 1960s also play a part. The hospital, in some ways, becomes a character itself. The fictional and real characters from the past are well combined and make for a fascinating tale. The history of North and South Brother Islands, so close to New York City, is explored. The structure is sometimes confusing, as each chapter represents a time flash, and sometimes the exact year is not given. The concept of an asymptomatic carrier of disease such as Typhoid Mary is given a new and even crueler twist in the character of Cora. Fans of historical or medical thrillers will be mesmerized by this novel.

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Historical Novels Review Magazine, the magazine of The Historical Novel Society.


Shelley Nolden

A graduate of the University of Minnesota, Shelley Nolden is an entrepreneur and writer, now residing in Wisconsin. Previously, she lived in the New York City area, where she worked on Wall Street and first learned of North Brother Island.

At the age of 31, Shelley was diagnosed with leukemia and completed treatment three years later. The sense of isolation and fear she experienced during her cancer ordeal influenced her debut novel, THE VINES.