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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
When you hear the name Borgia, who's the first person to come to mind? If you’re like me, it’s most likely the infamous Lucretia Borgia associated with poisonings in the 15th century. But the woman you will meet in Borgia Rose, a historical novel by KD Allbaugh, is Rose Zoldoske, born to poor Polish parents in Wisconsin in the 1880s. Her story, as told by Allbaugh, is as captivating as Lucretia’s but is connected with actual, not mythical, poisonings of which the court of public gossip condemned her for long before she was tried, convicted, and given a life sentence in a court of law.
As a young woman, Rose secured a position as companion and confidante to Laura, the sickly wife of one of Richland County’s doctors, an irresistibly handsome womanizer. Even Rose was attracted to Dr. George Mitchell, but she knew her place. Her allegiance was to Laura and her children, and when Laura passed away, Rose wanted nothing more than to stay on looking after the youngsters, for whom George seemed to have little time or love. Coming from a poor family, except for the lovely Elly Maly, Rose wasn’t held in much esteem by other young women in Richland County. Nevertheless, Rose and Elly became close friends. When rumors started flying that Elly Maly may become the new Mrs. Mitchell, Rose feared she might be let go as the children would have a new mother. Following a dinner party organized by Rose, Elly becomes violently ill and dies. The autopsy shows Elly had succumbed to strychnine poisoning. Suspicion immediately falls on Rose; gossipers call her jealous and hopeful of marrying Dr. Mitchell. Hence, despite the best efforts of her lawyers and a lack of substantial proof of guilt, the unfortunate Rose just had to be the murderess.
While this historical information is available online, KD Allbaugh’s storytelling skills make Borgia Rose a gripping, mysterious read that keeps you turning pages. KD Allbaugh does a terrific job of throwing would-be crime solvers off the track, especially with the incredible twist she brings into the epilogue. I never saw it coming. Will you? Is it fact or fiction? Only Allbaugh knows for sure. Allbaugh’s sensitive depiction of the hapless Rose endears this protagonist to us. The style is simple, straightforward, and an excellent blend of narrative and dialogue. The story enlightens and educates regarding the customs and attitudes of society in the late 1890s. Final word? Add this one to your bucket list.