on 15 June 2005
Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mystery series is, definitely, one of the (if not the) best American historical mystery series around. And if you're in the market for a good mystery novel with wonderful historical detail and a nifty storyline, you'll definitely enjoy "Murder on Lennox Hill."
When midwife and nurse, Sarah Brandt, is asked to go the Linton house on Lennox Hill, she thinks that she's about to be asked to take care of another well-off expectant matron and she's grateful for the opportunity to add a well paying client to her files. But the Lintons, who turn out to be a much older couple, have actually requested Sarah's help for a much more serious matter: they fear that their sweet but simple-minded daughter, Grace, may be with child, and they want Sarah to put their minds at rest by examining the child. A brief examination confirms everyone's worst fears: Grace is almost six months pregnant. But how did Grace, who was never left on her own, and who was always in the company of either her mother or her maid, become pregnant? It is a mystery that Sarah is determined to solve and to put a stop to the monster who took advantage of Grace before he strikes again. And to do that Sarah enlists the help of her friend, police detective Frank Malloy, and carefully begins to make herself part of the Linton's circle of friends.
Frank, in the meantime, has been approached by Sarah's father on another matter. Part of New York's upper class, Felix Decker had disapproved of Sarah's marriage to Dr. Thomas Brandt, and of her work as a midwife and nurse. And when Brandt was murdered, the Deckers had assumed that Sarah would come home and take her place in society again. Except that Sarah chose to continue her work and to seek justice for Brandt's murder. Now, Decker wants to hire Frank to find Brandt's murderer. Decker has a letter that claims that Brandt was an unsavoury character. And he thinks that if Brandt's murderer is found, all of Brandt's crimes will come to light, and that a disillusioned Sarah will finally come to her senses and come home, and that she will also turn her back on Frank for having revealed Brandt to be the man he actually is (Decker disapproves completely of Sarah's friendship with Frank). And while Frank knows all this, he also realises that he is the only one who can do a proper job, find out the real truth about Brandt (and not just what Decker wants to hear) and so minimise the damage done to Sarah. And so Frank finds himself, much against his will, working for Felix Decker. That is until Sarah involves him in the Linton case, and that investigation leads both Sarah and Frank into an area of depravity that even they were unprepared for...
My first advice is not to read the blurb on the dustwrapper. It gives away almost three quarters of the plot! Why do publishers do this? Don't they realise that for most mystery addicts, plot development, with all its many (or few) twists and turns are an important feature? Because Victoria Thompson's Gaslight mysteries are an auto-buy, I didn't read the blurb and so was saved from disappointment. I only read it when I was in the middle of writing the review -- hence the rant. Ranting aside, "Murder on Lennox Hill" was a good read. The storyline was an intriguing one that developed smoothly and unfolded at a good and constant pace. And the character portrayals were so well done as to seem almost lifelike. The period detail was brilliant as well, and added a nice background atmosphere to the novel at hand. And while there weren't too many plot twists, when it did come, it really did liven up the book enormously. Also adding to the complexity of tone was how Thompson filtered in the mystery of Thomas Brandt's murder, showing us how important it was to both Frank and Sarah that truth about the murder came out. All in all, "Murder on Lennox Hill" was a truly superb read, and one that should not be missed.
For those who like their mysteries interspersed with history, this Gaslight Mystery series should satisfy on both counts. Set in New York City in the late eighteen nineties, these books chronicle the investigatory adventures of Sarah Brandt, a former socialite turned midwife, and Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy of the New York City Police Department. Set against a backdrop of New York City life that encompasses the teeming tenements of the poor and the stately homes of the wealthy, these books are replete with period detail. They are well-written, with satisfying and intriguing plots.
In this one, Sarah Brandt is requested to examine a young mentally disabled seventeen year old girl from an affluent family from the Lenox Hill neighborhood in Manhattan. Sarah reluctantly confirms the fact that the girl is pregnant. Therein lies the mystery, as the parents swear that the girl is never left to her own devices. The situation is clearly a puzzle, and Sarah calls upon a reluctant Detective Malloy to make discrete inquiries into the matter.
As both Sarah and Malloy investigate, their suspicions fall upon the local minister, whom the family of the girl reveres. When their chief suspect, however, meets up with an untimely end, Sarah and Malloy must now unravel not only the mystery of the girl's pregnancy but that of the death of her minister.
The main characters are well-developed, and the dialogue is credible, moving the story along at a brisk pace. With each book, the backdrop stories of the lives of the main characters are fleshed out. At the core of it all is the evolving relationship between Sarah and Malloy, a relationship that is constrained by the social mores of the time. While the mysteries are intriguing, they are the framework around which the characters evolve. Those who like historical fiction and mysteries will enjoy this series of books.
on 22 September 2010
'As a turn of the century midwife in New York City's tenements, Sara Brandt has seen more than her share of joy and sorrow, birth and death. Now, Sarah finds herself in the thick of a scandal that threatens to ruin not only one upstanding family, but an entire community...
A GASLIGHT MYSTERY
When the affluent Lintons of Lenox Hill summon Sarah Brandt to examine their teenage daughter, their worst fears is confirmed: she is with child. The pregnancy is a mystery, however, as the young woman - mentally still a child herself - is never left on her own and denies that any man has ever hurt her. It's a delicate situation, casting suspicion on those close to the Lintons, including their beloved minister, the Reverend Oliver Upchurch.
But as Sarah and a reluctant Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy investigate, fate deals their inquiry a harsh blow. The reverend falls dead during a service - poisoned by the cyanide-laced wine in his chalice.
Now, they must not only uncover the truth behind the Linton girls's pregnancy, they must track down Upchurch's killer before this entire sordid affair wreaks havoc on more innocent lives...'
I really enjoyed this book, though the subject wasn't an easy one.
When Sarah is asked to attend the Linton family home, Sarah finds that their daughter, a young woman with mental health issues, is pregnant. Her parents are horrified particularly as they never leave their daughter alone, so are mystified as to how she could have become pregnant.
Sarah, after making some discreet enquiries with the Lintons, goes to their church, as she feels there is a strong possibility that their daughter was 'attacked' there. However when she gets there she meets the charismatic preacher, the Reverend Upchurch, who encourages the fatherless young boys and teenagers of the parish to spend time in the church, teaching them manners and giving them a male role model.
Mrs Upchurch, though, is not so welcoming, and her behaviour - standoffish to the congregation, flirtatious to the young men, cold towards her husband - rings alarm bells with Sarah.
When Mrs Upchurch tells Sarah that the Reverend and she live in a loveless, unconsumated marriage, and moreover, the Reverend prefers, in the words of his wife, 'younger and more innocent flesh' Sarah is horrified and discusses the matter with Frank Malloy.
Malloy, meanwhile, has been asked by Felix Decker - Sarah's father - to investigate Sarah's husband's death. Despite his better judgement, Malloy feels that if he does investigate the case, he can break any bad news to Sarah gently rather than have her image of her husband tarnished.
Together, Malloy and Sarah discover terrible things have been happening at the church but just before they are in a position to break the case, the Reverend is poisoned by his own communion wine in front of the entire congregation.
So - who poisoned the Reverend? We find out why before hand.
Why do *four* people confess to the murder with such weak confessions?
And who did make the Lintons' daughter pregnant?
As well as all these, Sarah is settling at home with Aggie, the orphan from the Prodigal Son Mission House ('Murder on Mulberry Bend') and Maeve, an older girl who is helping Sarah to care for Aggie. And Malloy's deaf son, now best friends with Aggie, is coming along at the school Sarah helped Malloy to find and get Brian admitted to.
All in all a worthy and enjoyable addition to the series.