on 5 July 2005
Shirley Tallman delivers a splendidly intriguing and suspenseful follow-up to "The Nob Hill Murders" in this second Sarah Woolson mystery novel, "The Russian Hill Murders." Definitely, this is a series to look out for!
When first Caroline Godfrey, a member of the new Women's and Children's Hospital, and then Reverend Halsey, who vehemently opposed the hospital's existence suddenly die, Sarah Woolson, San Francisco's first female lawyer, is intrigued and perplexed. The authorities dismiss both deaths as accidental, but Sarah has a feeling that there is something more to both deaths. However, she's too busy trying to help a client collect damages for a wrongful death suit, as well as having to put up with the bad tempered crochets of her hostile employer to ponder more on these deaths. And then the hospital's accountant dies under highly suspicious circumstances. This time there is evidence that the man was poisoned. Because he had had a very acrimonious relationship with the hospital's hot tempered Chinese cook, the police immediately jump to the conclusion that the cook is guilty of poisoning the accountant. And when they find the poison in the kitchen, they immediately arrest the man for murder. Sarah cannot believe that the cook has been arrested on such a slender piece of evidence, and fears that racial prejudice may at the root of the cook's arrest. So that when Li Ying, San Francisco's most powerful Tong lord whom Sarah met in "The Nob Hill Murders" requests that she defend the cook during the criminal trial, Sarah readily agrees. And even though Sarah realises that she has to not only contend with the racial prejudice of the jury as well as the sexist opinions of the court and the jury, she's determined to do the best for her client -- and in this case it means that she will have to discover the identity of the real murderer...
I enjoyed Shirley Tallman's "The Russian Hill Murders" so much that I had to finish it in one sitting. The plot unfolded at a brisk and continuous pace; and the manner in which the author bridged both of Sarah's cases, cleverly done. Also nicely done was how the author maintained the suspense and how she portrayed San Francisco, both its people and the town, of the late 1800s. But what really made this novel a stellar one is the author's vivid and credible characterisation of her heroine, Sarah Woolson, and how she fitted the mystery around Sarah's stalwart character: a woman who believes strongly in the equality of sexes as well as the races, and who is not afraid to fight for what she believes in or to right a wrong. And it is this strong sense of justice and fair play that made "The Russian Hill Murders" a wonderful and absorbing read, and made me root for Sarah right to the end.