Three women are the main characters of this book: Caroline Hochstetter – a Southern belle turned New York society matron; Tess Fairweather – a young woman from mid-America who is part of a sister-act of cons, she and her sister are also of German heritage; and Sarah Blake – a contemporary writer who is in search of her next literary topic. An almost-main character is Ginny, sister to Tess, who is currently the brains of their ‘last job’. Set against the opulent backdrop of the Lusitania on her final voyage, the story centers around love, lust, and intrigue.
Caroline’s husband is a self-made mogul who is purportedly taking this trip with his wife as a means of bringing romance back into their marriage. But it seems as though he goes to great lengths to spend as little time with her as possible as he is constantly ‘attending to business’. Fortunately for Caroline an old friend, Robert Langford, is also sailing on Lusitania and he is hopelessly in love with the socialite. This love triangle is shadowed by the threat of espionage.
Tess Fairweather (née Tennessee Schaff) is traveling to England to begin a new life. Her sister, and co-conspirator in running cons, Ginny has arranged for Tess to perform one last task of forgery that could change the course of World War I. Tess has her misgivings but agrees as she will need money to begin her life anew. But Tess meets a maudlin Robert Langford and against her better judgement falls in love.
Sarah Blake, a writer in current times, is searching for the subject of her next book. She uncovers an unopened box that belonged to her great-grandfather Patrick (first class steward on the Lusitania) and breaks the age-old edict that the box never be opened. What she finds sends her to London to find the descendant of Robert Langford – John – who is a member of Parliament embroiled in a scandal. Together John and Sarah work to uncover the truth about the Lusitania’s sinking and as the reader can predict fall in love.
I was a bit disappointed in the first half of the book as there were just too many coincidental similarities to the movie version of Titanic: rich man travels with wife (fiancée in Titanic); rich man puts down wife (fiancée); rich man is traveling with a valuable artifact, in this case a rare unpublished Strauss waltz (diamond necklace in Titanic); rich wife has a fling with another man. Second class passenger Tess is a con artist (Jack from Titanic is in third class and is a bit of a con man); Tess is an artist who works with pencil and carries a sketchbook (so does Jack). Tess falls in love with first class passenger Robert (Jack falls for first class passenger Rose). Another passenger Margery Schuyler is also reminiscent of Titanic passenger Molly Brown. Only first-class steward Patrick seems to be an original.
Where the two ships’ stories diverge is the way they go down. Thankfully there were no icebergs in the Celtic Sea in May! But it’s a German torpedo that blasts Lusitania out of the water.
Writer Sarah Blake provides the framework for the story as she seeks to uncover the truth about the sinking through historical research (in Titanic it is the salvage boat operator and an aging Rose who frame the story).
The second half of the book was a bit confusing; I got the impression that some of the characters had no clue as to who was doing what and with whom. Scenes where the ship was sinking didn’t provide me with a sense of urgency and seemed a bit disjointed. My favorite scenes are all in the first chapter of the book.
Overall, The Glass Ocean was a good read. Aficionados of war stories, Titanic, Lusitania will find it interesting.
Rating: 3 stars