That's what happens in Savage Girl, a fascinating look at late 19th century New York high society and the attempts of the Delegate family to "rescue" and refine a young woman thought to be brought up in the wild.
The Delegate family are filthy rich. As in hard-to-imagine-rich. Hugo is the spoiled son, attending Harvard as an anatomical student, obsessed with drawing anything anatomical. He has a weird obsession with the human body. The story is told through his eyes, and they are a bit unreliable. Hugo is sickly, and has blackouts where he doesn't remember what happened or what he did during those times. His life is altered when his family, traveling on a private train to Virginia City, come upon a dingy side-show down a dark alley. That side show is savage girl, a young women who runs on all fours and seems pretty vicious, yet incredibly intelligent. Hugo's father decides he needs to rescue her and bring her back to New York City. Here Hugo's parents will educate and refine savage girl and introduce her to society. She's a big experiment.
But this experiment has some dark baggage, and that baggage is murder. Men are being found dead and mutilated wherever savage girl goes. As savage girl slowly transforms into a young lady, and begins speaking (her name is Bronwyn), she's even more mysterious. Where did she come from, and what does she know? Is she the killer? Is it Hugo, who hallucinates from drink and blacks out whenever there's a murder? This mystery keeps you on your toes.
Nature vs nuture is a big theme in this novel. It's a fascinating look at people and motives with a mystery added to the mix.
Rating: 8/10 for the writing, descriptions of 19th century New York City, and a clever plot.
Available in hardcover, audio, and ebook.
Thanks to Viking/Penguin for a review copy.