Murder in Murray Hill by Victoria Thompson (4 out of 5)
This is Gaslight Mystery #16 in Victoria Thompson’s splendid series of Old New York. I don’t remember if it was Liz at Crown Books who got me started on these books, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was Liz (Thank you!). I got Carol and Jennie into them and yes, Jennie still reads them also. Every spring I can look forward to a new installment. The last one I wasn’t super pleased with, because it was all sentimental, overemotional mush mush, and it lost a lot of the lure. Although these are predominantly historical mysteries, there’s a lot of well defined characters and relationships that were not easy back then. The dividing line between classes, the cops being looked down upon as crooked even if they weren’t, and the main character, Sarah, a midwife, who is looked down upon because of her gender and the fact that she is a widow with a job. Thompson has done a wonderful job of fleshing these characters out over the years so that when you read these descriptions of life as it was, well, sometimes it pisses you off. But that’s often a sign that your author knows their time period and their characters. Victoria Thompson does.
This Gaslight Mystery finds Frank and Sarah happily engaged and planning to find a house to live in. Real life comes to roost. The inheritance that found Frank loaded at the end of the last novel ends up making him the laughingstock of the police department, and the chief lets him go, due to his newfound wealth (say what? Witness my opening paragraph above about the times being unfair). He’s investigating the disappearance of a young lady who answered a ‘lonely hearts’ ad in the newspaper. Her father is worried sick, and Frank quickly figures out what happened, but spares her father the whole explanation until he can prove his hunch is correct. It’s proven quickly enough. Process of elimination, and with help from Sarah and their young charge Maeve, they trick a man they believe is the one who kidnapped the girl into leading them to the house. They find the young lady, semi-naked and full of blood. A man in the room with her has had his throat slit, and she’s covered in his blood. A search of the house turns up a maid, an accomplice who may or may not be a dimwitted butler, and other frightening things- including cages where he locked up the women he’s lured there. They find another woman in a cage in the basement, who runs away when they lose track of her for a moment. More sickening discoveries take place, and the crowning jewel is the realization that the rapist kept a pair of shoes for every woman he brought there. They find twelve pairs of shoes- so where are the other ten women? Who killed the perpetrator? Will Frank aid the NYPD in solving the case, or will he go incognito, with Sarah’s help? What’s the story with the other two mystery men in the house? What are their roles? What’s the maid’s angle in all of this? What happened to the girl who got away? Do any of the survivors live happily every after? Let me tell you this, when you get done reading this, all of your questions (and mine) are answered thoroughly, and with more than a few twists and turns. I didn’t expect any of it to roll out the way it did, and I loved that. I wish there were more of the usual suspects in the book- Mrs. Ellsworth, Maeve, Brian, Catherine, Sarah’s parents, that’s what I truly missed. Especially with the life-changing things that occur by the end of the book. And the ending is somewhat abrupt, meaning the scene that ends the book, while heartwarming, is a little well, abrupt. You feel like there was some major dialogue that should have occurred that didn’t. But having said that, otherwise, I enjoyed this one much more than the previous one. It was nice to see the story shift back to actual crime and crime solving, and not so much mushy gushy.