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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Book Review - Murder on Lexington Avenue

Author: Victoria Thompson

Copyright: June 2010 (Berkley); 326 pgs

Series: #12 in The Gaslight Mysteries

Sensuality: Victorian mild

Mystery sub-genre: Historical Police Procedural/Amateur Sleuth

Main Character: Det. Sgt. Frank Malloy & Midwife Sarah Brandt

Setting: turn-of-the-20th-century New York City

Obtained book through: Publisher for an honest review

The book starts with Det. Sgt. Frank Malloy being called to investigate the murder scene of a wealthy man in his office.  He was beat on the head with a trophy cup.  The victim, Nehemiah Wooten, has a deaf daughter and thus Det. Malloy is on the case since his son is deaf.  What Malloy finds is that there is a split among attitudes towards the deaf and Mr. Wooten was a disciple of Alexander Graham Bell who put forth his belief that deaf people bred deaf people (Eugenics) thus they should be forced to learn lip reading and not sign language (which would engcourage they keep company with other deaf people).  Therefore Mr. Wooten had sent his daughter to a school to learn lip reading - but she had defied her father and paid to be taught sign language...and now wanted to marry her deaf sign teacher!  Then Mr. Malloy stumbles upon the victim's wife is pregnant from the partner's son.  Which allows the midwife Sarah Brandt to enter the household and snoop for him.  The people who had motive to kill the iron handed Nehemiah Wooten are adding up and Sarah is in the household investigating while Malloy runs down other leads.
The story grabbed my attention immediately and I hated leaving it.  I sailed through the middle hardly able to wait for what was coming.  The plot may not be highly complex but it is told well - invoking your emotions and pulling you into the drama.  The issues surrounding the deaf community play a part of the murderous web and are surprising and illuminating.  The cast of potential killers rang from the deaf daughter, Electra, the son Leander, the teacher who taught Electra to sign, the partner, and the partner's son and even the wife.
Mrs. Wooten had risen to her feet, and Frank saw that the girl's appearance had shattered her calm.  Suddenly, she looked almost frightened.  "Electra, go to your room.  I'll explain later."
Electra.  The deaf girl.  That explained her odd-sounding voice. 
"Annie said something happened to Father," she was saying.  "Tell me!"
...Frank knew that the students at the Lexington Avenue School could speech-read.  He wasn't sure how difficult it was for them to do, so he spoke slowly and distinctly, just in case.  "Your father was murdered."
She frowned, her lovely brow wrinkling in confusion.  She turned back to her mother.  "Murdered?" she asked.
'Yes," Mrs Wooten said with great reluctance.  "Your father is dead."
Electra obsorbed the news for a second.  Frank waited, expecting an explosion of of tears, but none of the emotions playing across her face was grief.  The one she finally settled on looked very much like satisfaction, and then she lifter her pert little chin and said, "Good."
Sarah and Det. Malloy are enjoyable characters who clearly are attracted to each other in a delightful way.  Malloy respects Sarah and her opinions that she shares, enjoys discussing the case with her and bouncing ideas back and forth.  They both "light up" when the other is around.  I enjoyed them and their banter that borders on flirting.
There is a subplot of Sarah's adopted daughter starting to recall some traumatic memories that has me hooked to find out how that develops.  But I must be honest that I would have liked to see Malloy's deaf son take more of a spotlight and Malloy himself make an effort to learn sign language more.  There is a lack of scene development that could have added more period awareness and made the story come more alive.  At times I could have forgotten it was the early 1900s because of the lacking details - which is such a shame.
The climax has a victorian style chase scene with a tense confrontation and a twist.  The wrap up with Sarah and Malloy promises more to come in their simmering relationship to keep readers coming back. 
If you enjoy historical mysteries I think you will like this one.
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Kathy said...

I love this series! my favorite characters are Maeve and Mrs. Ellison. I'm looking forward to reading this!

Mystica said...

I have just reviewed a mystery murder by Dicey Deere which is also part of a series and which you may enjoy. Come over and have a look.

This one will go on my TBR as I like the sound of it. Thank you for your review.

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