I'm afraid I wasn't as impressed as the other reviewers were with "The Conjurer." Initially, I had thought the novel an introduction to a new sleuth, Martha Beale. It is after all titled: The Conjurer, A Martha Beale Mystery, implying that Martha plays an active role in the resolution. As it turns out, Martha spends most of the time worriedly wringing her hands, or fainting, or shaking in her boots when her father's secretary bullies her, or worrying what society will think of her, or drugged up, or reacting to the events around her. By the time she develops a spine, the novel is at an end. I don't know what the product synopsis meant by her "investigation" with the mayor's assistant, Thomas Kelman; there is no investigating done by her at all. The mysteries in this story resolve themselves simply by means of fate, not from any intervention by Martha or Tom.
I also think the story is overburdened by too many characters, some of whom have very little or none to do with the plot. I get the feeling the novel was overpopulated for the purposes of creating complexity where none existed and to illustrate the wide breadth of classes in 1840s Philadelphia. Let's see, there's a spineless heroine, her future love interest, an odious secretary, a missing financier, another financier with bad manners, the financier's wife who rightfully should be the star because she has more gumption than Martha, an arrogant socialite, the socialite's disturbed husband, a mysterious man with a club foot, a 10-year-old prostitute, a sibling in an asylum, a beggar who lost her son, a boy who suffers from epileptic seizures, a domineering matron, a serial killer, an Italian necromancer, the necromancer's assistant to translate his master's ravings, a brothel madam, another society couple, and I'm sure there are a few more I've missed. Whew! If one is to mimic a Dickensian love for characters, at least make them memorable and central to the plot.
As a diehard mystery fan of the grim and dastardly kind (the mysteries, not me), I never thought I would ever say this, but there are TOO MANY deaths here. There are women who are poisoned, children killed ritualistically, a man (Martha's father) believed to have drowned but no body can be found, another man found dead in the streets, each with its own sub-plot that, by hook or by crook, probability issues notwithstanding, are forced to all be related.
A messy plot with a rushed and unbelievable ending. A tighter, better organized story with a dynamic heroine would have been infinitely superior. Sometimes too much does not mean multi-layered and complex. Sometimes it just means...well...too much.