Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson

Sarah Brandt is a midwife in the late 1800s New York. It's a time of change. Theodore Roosevelt is the commissioner and making plenty of reform changes, much the chagrin of Frank Malloy who has high hopes of bribing his way to captain one day. The death of a young girl, Alicia VanDamm, enables the paths of Sarah Brandt and Frank Malloy to cross. Frank is sent to investigate her death, Sarah shows up at the house to look in on the mother and baby she helped deliver the previous night. She recognized the young girl who bore a striking resemblance to her friend Mina VanDamm. Sarah is highly suspicious the girl is pregnant, which is confirmed later by the ME, and wonders what a prominent family member is doing in a boarding house. Unwittingly drawn in by Sarah's demand for justice, Frank agrees, even more so when he's taken off the case. He encourages Sarah to continue, especially when she's brought him vital information. Her ticket with the VanDamms via her family, the wealthy Deckers, allows her some insight into why this sweet, innocent girl was murdered.

I typically don't read historical fiction. But wait, one might say, don't you read Sherlock Holmes and didn't you recently review Holmes on the Range? Yes and yes. I don't really regard Sherlock Holmes by Doyle to be historical. Doyle wrote them during his time. Naturally, I'm drawn to Sherlockian style stories so I had to give Holmes on the Range a try. If it hadn't been so engrossing, I would've dropped it like a hot poker. Kudos to Hockensmith on that. Sometimes when a person writes a historical there feels like the author needed to perform an information overload on the reader, which it seems some authors haven't got it that readers (a) don't like to be lectured, (b) it doesn't show how smart the writer is, and (c) it's unnecessary. Thompson didn't do that. She did throw in historical references, but as they pertained to the story and wove it in so it felt natural. I didn't get the impression I had turned on the history channel in the middle of reading this book. The mystery was good, though I did figure out most of it. What really made the story was the complexity of the characters Sarah Brandt and Frank Malloy. Both so different: upbringing, attitude and profession. The only thing they seem to have in common is trust; neither one trusts the other. Each feels wronged by a member of the other's profession. Brandt's husband's murder has never been solved due to overwhelming corruption in the police force and Malloy's wife died after childbirth and he blames the midwife. Yet, the shattered innocence of this girl brings them together for a common goal: justice. Seeing as there are more books in the series, Malloy and Brandt will have more opportunities to ensure justice is meted out for more unfortunates and maybe their distrust of one another will dissolve.


hamilcar barca said...

"...much the chagrin of Frank Malloy who has high hopes of bribing his way to captain one day."

i like it that Frank's not a "too good to be believable" guy. i'm guessing he becomes a bit more virtuous as the book goes along. but hopefully, he's still a bit "gray" at the end.

Christina said...

Just a touch. Later, Sarah finds out he has a crippled son which is the reason he wants to make captain so he can provide for him. However, he's a very bitter man to society and shows no emotion to his son and he's also quick to strike anyone and can be quite cold. I think he'll prove to be redeemable and just needs time. But I found it refreshing that the "good" guy isn't too good and the reasons for it.

Julie said...

Very good review! I'm putting this on my TBR list.