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The Conjurer: A Martha Beale Mystery Hardcover – 6 Feb 2007


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 306 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur (6 Feb. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312352468
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312352462
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 16.1 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,690,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Liz Wilkins TOP 500 REVIEWER on 12 July 2014
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: Available Now from Open Road Media.

Thank you to the author and publisher for the review copy via netgalley

An heiress breaks free of social conventions and attempts to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance in 1842 Philadelphia in Cordelia Frances Biddle’s first Martha Beale mystery.
When her father fails to appear for lunch at their country estate, Martha Beale knows something is wrong. The family’s faithful dogs discover Lemuel Beale’s hunting rifle by the river, but there is no sign of the millionaire financier. Refusing to believe he is dead, his daughter—and sole heir—begins a discreet investigation with the help of the mayor’s aide, Thomas Kelman.

This was a fairly intriguing historical crime mystery, to be honest however I was a bit up and down with it. Certain parts of the story had me hooked – the sense of time and place, a womans’s role in that place and Martha’s attempts to break that and track down her father are all well done and the ambience surrounding the society of the time is authentic. However, I wasnt really fond of Martha as a character – I found her annoying a lot of the time – although to be fair, as we reached the end of the story she did come into her own a little bit more, the journey she took often had me shaking my head.

The mystery element IS well done for sure – although the heart of the book can be found more in the society portions of the novel – and I was compelled to find out what was what. As this is the first book in a series I will be very interested to see what is next for Martha. If the author can keep her character moving forward, I can see this developing into an interesting series and one which I would like to keep up with.

A solid 3* read with the potential to become much more.

Happy Reading Folks!
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By Clare O'Beara TOP 500 REVIEWER on 27 Sept. 2014
Format: Paperback
Set in and around old Philadelphia, this book doesn't hesitate to explore the poverty and misery of the day. Cloth mills and the Derringer factory are big employers, and some people scheme to make fortunes by supplying piped water and gas to these workers' homes. The prison flushes out sewers every two weeks so the stench is unbearable.

This is a crime tale, however, and I did find it hard to focus on the disappearance of a wealthy landowner or the murder of a young prostitute, when we constantly get other strays and waifs taking up the story and then disappearing. Martha Beale who is the daughter of the missing man, has been gently raised but decides to start doing good works in order that the police and authorities will keep up the search for her father, who is presumed drowned. Appropriately she begins her works at the orphan home. This starts her involvement with the city's poor and those who prey on them.

I find the present tense awkward and can only suppose that the author has used it in order to bring the past to life in front of us. Some of the characters are based on her own past family members, she tells us, and so far there are three books in the series.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 15 reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
more a historical tale than a mystery 10 Feb. 2007
By Harriet Klausner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In 1842 Philadelphia, wealthy financier Lemuel Beale vanishes without a trace. His only offspring overly protected and obedient to a fault Martha finds her father's secretary Owen Simms ordering her about. Already having her fill of her demanding father, Martha begins to revolt by insisting the city investigate the disappearance of Lemuel.

Mayoral assistant Thomas Kelman is assigned to learn what happened to the influential Beale though the city government assumes he is dead. Although he is tied up with another inquiry into a serial killer murdering female child prostitutes, he makes time to search for the missing banker with the help of Martha though Simms tries every trick including drugs to keep the suddenly non-compliant heiress under his thumb as he plans to marry her and her money. As Thomas and Martha work on both of his cases, a societal conjurer favorite Eusapio Paladino makes all sorts of proclamations on the prostitution homicides that lead to him to being the prime suspect. However, complicating the Kelman inquiries, Paladino is arrested for allegedly killing John Durand, the husband of the magician's upper crust paramour Emily Durand.

In some ways this is more a historical tale than a mystery as much of the story line provides depth to 1842 Philadelphia's upper and lower classes; thus fans of American whodunits will find the mid nineteenth century tidbits at times too much as that takes away from the investigations. Still fans, especially those who appreciate a deep period piece, will enjoy Martha Beale's dangerous coming out gala.

Harriet Klausner
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Needs a Magician to Stitch It Together Better 5 Feb. 2009
By Christina Hamlett - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
To the writer's credit, she does a lovely job of capturing what life was like in 1840's Philadelphia. It's also intriguing that she writes all of the action in the present tense in order to give readers the feeling that they are experiencing everything in real time. Unfortunately, I felt that her heroine, Martha Beale, was not only a passive observer of much of the action but that the plethora of characters who were introduced are strung together with so many instances of contrivance that the resolution of the mystery felt implausible. I'd like to have seen a much tighter focus on Martha Beale if she's indeed to be the feminist sleuth of a new mystery series; this is something that should have been caught by an editor.

Christina Hamlett
Author of "Movie Girl"
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Not the mystery series I'd anticipated 27 Aug. 2008
By Baking Enthusiast - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Still waiting for Martha Beale to solve the mystery... 10 Aug. 2010
By locally grown - Published on Amazon.com
I wasn't aware, when I read the book, that Martha Beale is supposed to be a new sleuth. As a heroine, she fails miserably. She is a passive character who happens into a resolution, seemingly by mistake. She is one of a cast of many extranneous characters who were developed, I believe, merely for the author to make up new, society-sounding names. Somewhere in there is a weak mystery that takes second stage to Martha's inability to stand up to her father's secretary and her somewhat plausible romance. This mystery is threaded through parties and social niceties, and in the end I'm still unclear about how we came to a resolution.

I don't understand why it was called "The Conjurer", when that particular character is secondary to the plot. It might make more sense to call it "The Secretary". Overall I would say that this book was average - I didn't dislike it, but it wasn't outstanding in its genre. I doubt I'll pick up the subsequent books in the series.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Best New Mystery Writer! 11 April 2007
By Diana Douglass - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Cordelia Biddle, herself the descendant of two very old and aristocratic Philadelphia families, has crafted an intricately plotted mystery/thriller with superb character development and lots of fascinating historical detail about Philadelphia. Whether you live in Philly, dream of visiting Philly, or just love a good mystery and appreciate wonderful historic atmosphere, you will love this, the first of a series, and will eagerly await, as I do, the next Martha Beale mystery. You'll be reminded of Dickens and Conan Doyle; but Cornelia Biddle is even more talented, having created her characters and settings from meticulous historical research, while Dickens and Doyle had merely to step into the streets of London for their material. Philadelphia in the 1840's was a fascinating - and to my surprise, dark and sinister - place. This novel is not for the faint of heart, but you will surely be drawn into the place and time, and love and hate the characters. But be warned - you will not be able to put it down until you've finished!
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