By Karen Hancock, Editor, BellaOnline.com, April 10, 2014
Great Debut Novel; Fascinating Story -- 4 Stars
In his debut novel, Tea Cups & Tiger Claws, Timothy Patrick begins the story in 1916 in the small town of
Prospect Park, California. Like many small towns in those days, the residents are divided by class according
to both family name and income. The rich who live on the hilltop do not associate with those who live down
below, and no one associates with the lowest of the low who live in the worst part of town referred to as
“Yucky D.” However, when Ermel Railer and her husband Jeb, become the new parents of identical triplet
girls, people from miles around come to look at the triplets. Most visitors leave envelopes with money as
payment for seeing the triplets. The Duchess, who lives in the second largest mansion on top of the hill,
comes several days in a row to see the girls, and brings both money and gifts for Ermel. Jeb, without his
wife’s knowledge, makes a deal with the Duchess to sell (under the guise of a phony adoption) his triplets for
a thousand dollars each, and is also promised a job. However, when the papers are being signed, Ermel
double crosses her husband and the Duchess; only two of the triplets, Abigail and Judith, end up being
adopted and Ermel keeps Dorthea for herself.
As Dorthea grows up in her loveless home with alcoholic parents, she recognizes that she does not fit in, and
feels like she has been cheated when she sees her rich sisters; Judith, who is malevolent and cruel herself,
constantly makes fun of Dorthea, and although Abigail is a little nicer, Dorthea knows she will never be her
sisters’ equal. Dorthea becomes determined not only to get back at her parents and sisters, but also to own
the largest house on the hilltop, Sunny Slope Manor. Her ambition is driven by hate, greed, malevolence,
and jealousy. Dorthea begins planning while young, and will stop at nothing to realize her dreams.
Several themes are intertwined throughout the novel: class distinction, and how the poor are obsessed with
fitting in with high society, family relationships – mother & daughter, sisters, and aunts – drug and alcohol
addiction, struggle for power, entitlement of the rich, obsessive ambition, and cold, calculated murder.
There is palpable suspense throughout the novel as the lives of the sisters evolve. Dorthea becomes rich
and powerful in her own right. She is, however, not respected or accepted by those members of
high-society that she is so envious of, but is still able to manipulate not only her sisters, but also her two
nieces, Sarah and Veronica. Dorthea’s careful planning puts each of the characters in danger in different
ways, and she has no qualms about committing murder and blackmail while working her way up.
This novel is not perfect. Patrick has obviously not had first-hand experience with a drug addict; Veronica’s
behaviors when using the “white powder” (coke) that Dorthea supplies don’t ring true, and when she “quits
taking it” it sounds a little weird, since most coke addicts snort it and don’t “take” it. In fact, Veronica’s
quick recovery from her drug-induced state and new sobriety (a matter of a few hours), are quite
implausible. There are also a few minor editing errors such as on page 244, “bindles of white powder”
instead of bundles, page 227 “encouraging words “form” Mr. Scarface” instead of from Mr. Scarface, page
345 “older “then” the last time” instead of older than the last time, and a grammatical error on page 212,
“you and I here” instead of you and me here. Even the most careful editors in bestselling novels miss a few
errors, and these really don’t take away from the story.
Albeit the minor problems in the novel, the story is fascinating and well-written. The characters are not
only interesting, but Patrick is able to present them so that they seem real – one or two may remind readers
of someone they are actually acquainted with. There are several unexpected twists and turns in the story,
and some of the events in the end are a surprise. For readers who enjoy historical and psychological
suspense that is a little bit different from the ubiquitous who-done-it, this book is definitely recommended.
Hopefully there is more to come from Timothy Patrick.
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