Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson
(Gaslight Mystery #1)
Published May 1, 1999
(Yes, I realize I originally published this a week early. I blame the cold medicine I was taking.)
This month’s challenge was for a book recommended by a friend. I’ll confess that I did have this series recommended by a friend, though they were recommending the latest book in the series. I, however, usually prefer to start at the beginning, especially with mysteries where the relationship between two characters plays and integral part. My friend promised that I’d find the first book well worth my time. Given I finished 291 pages in two days, I would say I did.
A historical mystery, the story opens in New York at the turn of the 20th Century. Sarah Brandt, a doctor’s widow who married below the social station she was born into, works as a midwife and is called out in the middle of the night to deliver a baby in a boarding house. The call’s not unexpected, but while there, she sees a girl who looks very much like an old schoolfriend of hers. Her attention is quickly diverted back to the work at hand and she doesn’t give the girl more than a passing thought. It is only the next day when she returns for a follow-up visit that she learns the girl has been murdered — and she is indeed a member of her old schoolfriend’s family.
Investigating the crime with not too much enthusiasm is Frank Malloy. This is a NYPD that has filled with corruption, though the current commissioner, one Theodore Roosevelt, has sworn to root it out. Malloy is an honest man as policemen go, though his eye is more on securing a promotion for himself than getting involved in a case that not only doesn’t promise to contribute to that effort, but which could actively hurt him. Sarah, however, won’t let go of the matter and Malloy slowly finds himself drawn in.
I’ll confess to making a guess early on as to the motives behind the murder and finding myself right, but I was fascinated enough with the characters that this didn’t spoil my enjoyment. There’s quite a bit of historic detail in the book, but it’s laid in deftly enough that it doesn’t feel heavy-handed. It wraps itself around the characters, informs their choices and builds the world Sarah and Malloy inhabit quite nicely.
There are currently fourteen books in the Gaslight Mysteries series, with a 15th due in May. This isn’t a series I’m going to swallow whole (like I tend to mainline the J.D. Robb In Death books, usually reading three at a whack before tackling something else), but I definitely have the next in the series, Murder On St. Mark’s Place, queued up in my “to buy” list.