Review: Whirlpool, by Eileen Enwright Hodgetts

Eileen Enwright Hodgetts

Product Description (from
The year is 1923 and the jazz age is in full swing. Evangeline Murray, a young widow from Ohio, is recruited by the Women’s Freedom Movement to represent the spirit of modern womanhood by going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Evangeline eagerly embraces her opportunity to achieve fame and fortune, until she sees the power of the River and begins to understand the risk she is taking. Joshua McClaren, an enigmatic battle-scarred veteran of World War I, and the best boatman on the river, reluctantly agrees to launch the headstrong Evangeline. Joshua has seen hundreds of bodies surface in the Whirlpool below the Falls, and has faced death on the battlefields of Flanders and has no respect for the charming, impetuous Mrs. Murray, and her desire for fame. Before the barrel can be launched, each of them will have to face their own demons, painful secrets will be revealed and the Niagara Rivers will claim two more lives. Inspired by true stories of the Falls, Whirlpool is a romance, an adventure, and the closest that most of us will ever come to taking the fateful plunge over the Falls.Whirlpool is a fiction that is based on reality. Seven people have tried to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Four have succeeded and three have died. The first person to make the attempt was Annie Taylor, a middle aged school teacher from Michigan who made a successful journey in 1901. Barrel riding at Niagara Falls is now forbidden by law, but at the beginning of the 20th century Niagara was a haven for daredevils of all types, and many of their exploits are included in the novel.

My Thoughts:
We live in an age where people put anything and everything on YouTube, to the point that, even when something disturbs us, we’re largely unaffected by it. If someone were shoot Niagara Falls in a barrel today, we’d share the video on Facebook, and make rude comments about what they were wearing. In 1923, however, stunts like that weren’t widely disseminated by smartphones and wifi tablets – it was up to the person doing it to make a splash (yes, that was a pun) with the press.

Whirlpool is, in part, about a young widow going over the falls in a barrel to make a political statement about women’s equality (something, I might point out, that we’re still fighting for almost a hundred years later), and that character, Evangeline Murray is a good choice for the role: independent, smart, and with little to tie her to the rest of the world.

But while Whirlpool is about Evangeline, it isn’t only about her. She’s part of a quartet of women – trouser-wearing Cornelia, simpering Iris, and sturdy Nell are the other three – and all of them are equally three-dimensional, interesting, and different from the rest. Reading about them is watching feminism launch its own wooden barrel, and I found myself nodding my head to various things each said.

Then there are the men. Standout, of course is Joshua McClaren, Nell’s widowed brother, who is a WWI vet and an expert on the river and, as much as anyone can be, the Falls.

(The Falls, it must be said, are a character – or characters – in their own right.)

Of course there are the inevitable romances, political exchanges and near-death experiences, but what, in other hands, would play like a Silhouette romance is, thanks to author Hodgetts’ deft care, a really compelling story of people who could be real, and situations that feel like the real life stories they were based upon.

Whirlpool is an excellent read, not just because of the period, not just because of the history lessons it sneaks in, but because, first and foremost, it’s a really good story.

Goes well with: A hot toddy. And maybe some bread pudding.