my Twitter feed will know I've been cheating and reading Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mysteries. Every now and then, I do take what I call a Genre Break, which recharges my fantasy-craving brain cells.
I first learned about this series via Mystery Robin's post on Enduring Romance. After a long delay, I finally bought the first three book in the series and immediately handed them off to a friend, because I knew she would like them as well. Well, she read those books and passed them back to me; then she bought and read the next six books, and passed them all to me as well! And now, I've read the first three books.
These books make me remember why I need to read novels by seasoned authors every once in a while. They are so wonderfully written that I can just utterly lose myself in the story. Debut novels tend to have little annoyances and after reading a long string of them, I get too critical. And the genre of fantasy has its own annoyances--such as the ever-villain and ubiquitous youthful male protagonists--and every now and then, I just need to get away from them for a while.(That isn't to say that mystery doesn't have its own problems, such as the villain monologue and the everlasting romance. But at least those problems are different.)
Sarah Brandt is a midwife during the 1890s. She comes from a background of privilege, having been born to the wealthy Decker family. However, she married a doctor--who her family considered beneath her--and at the start of the series, is estranged from her family due to mysterious circumstances after her husband's death, three years previously.
Frank Malloy is an Irish cop with the New York police department. The police during this time period are famously corrupt, and Malloy seems to fit right in with them. Sarah can hardly stand him, but she pesters him into actually solving the first case that brought them together. With Sarah's help, of course.
They both have prejudices against each other's profession--Malloy because he thinks a midwife botched the childbirth that killed his wife, and Sarah because the police wouldn't investigate her husband's death without a bribe.
Ms. Thompson portrays Malloy unapologetically as a product of his time. He's working long hours in order to pay the significant bribe necessary to buy a captaincy. He regularly beats confessions and clues out of suspects and witnesses, and when he doesn't beat them outright, he uses intimidation. People know he's a cop at a glance, even though as a detective sergeant, he never wears a uniform. But somehow, in spite of all this, Malloy is completely likable. I admit it--I read the book for him.
Sarah can get annoying from time to time. When she's on a case, she tends to pester potential suspects until she wears out her welcome. But she has no qualms with bugging someone who she thinks is guilty, so we can't fault her for that. And she has endless patience. Her medical knowledge even allows her to occasionally kick ass. But don't worry, she does not have the "kickassitude" heroine of today's urban fantasies. And Malloy thinks his efforts to attain her good opinion is ruining him as a cop.
The first book, Murder on Astor Place, was good enough for me to jump right into the second, Murder on St. Mark's Place. That one was so good that I eagerly read the third one at once, Murder on Gramercy Park. The first two novels focused a lot on character development. We learn exactly why Malloy wants his captaincy, and it's not out of pure greed. We learn a little about Tom Brandt's mysterious death. Of the three, Murder on St. Mark's Place is my favorite. Gramercy Park did not focus enough on character development to satisfy me.
At this point, I've had my fill, and will be turning back to fantasy. When I've read the next three books in the series, I'll put up another post.
If you occasionally like mysteries, I can't recommend this series highly enough.