books

Victoria Thompson

Books

Gaslight Mysteries: Murder on Astor Place (1999), Murder on Amsterdam Avenue (2015)



Gaslight Mysteries


Murder on Astor Place (1999)

Murder on Astor Place I’m a sucker for historical mysteries, so chances are if a series looks halfway decent, I’ll try it out.

Sarah Brandt is a widowed midwife who practices her trade in new York city in the late 1800s. Theodore Roosevelt has just started his attempts to reform the New York police, and society is starting to change–although slowly. In the midst of this, Sarah becomes caught up in a murder, as she was one of the last people to see the victim alive.

What I particularly liked about this book was that Sarah’s history was such that her involvement in the murder made perfect sense. Sometimes historical mysteries come across as much as fantasies as mysteries, as we have to suspend disbelief at the reasonableness of the actions of the heroines. In Murder on Astor place Victoria Thompson does an excellent job creating a characters whose actions are both believable and understandable, and fit in with her place in society during that time.

For this alone I’d recommend the book.

The mystery is also well-built, as we slowly discover not only the individuals that surround the mystery, but we also discover who Sarah is, and why she has become the woman she has.

There are a few caveats about this mystery–when my grandmother started this book she was very enthusiastic about the mystery and the characters, saying she thought she was going to enjoy it. Then it appeared back on the shelf with no comment. Now it could be she just started a new book and forget to tell me what she thought about this one, but I’m guessing that part of the story–especially towards the end of the book–didn’t sit with her so well. (As I suspected it might not.) Hopefully without giving anything away, Sarah is a midwife, so she is not disturbed by discussing sex in a way that other women of her class at that time were. And to be honest, I found part of the ending rather squicky myself.)

However, despite that, this is a strong book and a strong mystery, and one that I recommend, if nothing else for the development of the Sarah’s character through the book. Will I pick up the second book in the series? That I don’t know.
Rating: 7/10

Murder on Amsterdam Avenue (2015) 

Set in New York city in the late 1800s–probably 1898

Sarah Brandt and Frank Malloy are waiting for the remodeling of Frank’s house to be finished so they can finally get married. In the meantime, she is spending time with her parents, and because of her new change in society, her mother is trying to encourage her to make social calls again, and does get her to go on a condolence call for a man Sarah knew growing up–a man who died rather unexpectedly.

The man’s father hires Frank to determine if his son was murdered, and all kinds of secrets are exposed.

First, this is set after the Civil War, but it’s not like there is equality for blacks in America.

“Was it one of the colored girls?” Frank asked.

“All Jenny’s maids are colored,” Mrs. Decker said. “Most of mine are, too. It’s getting almost impossible to find a white girl who’ll go into service.”

Much of the story hinges here:

“You will probably hear this from someone else, so I suppose I should be the one to tell you first. I knew Daisy when . . . We grew up together in Georgia.”

Frank remembered her story well. “She was a slave on your plantation.”

“On my family’s plantation, yes.”

So. What did I think about this story? I think the racism was actually underplayed, but I’m not sure that making the racism more realistic would have worked especially well. I also guessed pretty quickly the big reveals of the story, which I don’t always mind, but I’m still not sure how I feel about it here.

SPOILERS

I know that a lot of people–especially women–passed for white in the years following the Civil War and through the Civil Rights Movement. What I don’t know is how common this knowledge was. When one of the characters talked about probably not realizing one of the servant girls was colored if he’d seen her on the street, it made me wonder why more people didn’t wonder about men and women passing. Did they just think no one would do that? Or was it a matter of not wanting to know?

For a time that was concerned about racial purity (See the way Frank and Gino were treated because they were Irish and Italian) you’d think people might have been more suspicious.

END SPOILERS

It just struck me as strange that no one even guessed at the Big Reveal. I didn’t think they would have expected it, but it seems strange that it didn’t pass anyone’s mind, especially considering the things that were said.

Interestingly, I read the first book in this series years and years ago, but never went on to read any more of the series; probably because I went off mysteries for awhile, and this hadn’t stuck enough for me in my memory to look for more of the series when I was back to mysteries.

Will I read another book in this series? Most likely.
Publisher: Berkley

Rating: 7/10