Thursday, August 20, 2009

Genre Break - Gaslight Mysteries, Volumes Three through Six

Every once in a while, the lure of the wonderful Gaslight Mysteries tempt me away from fantasy to the world of New York City during the waning years of the 19th century. The Gaslight Mysteries are written by Victoria Thompson. I reviewed volumes one through three a few months ago.

I wish Ms. Thompson would give the year that her novels take place. The only historical marker I have is Theodore Roosevelt's tenure as a Police Commissioner in New York City. According to his Wikipedia entry, those years were 1895 to 1897, so these novels take place during those years.

Murder on Washington Square is my favorite of the series so far. There's lots of character development for both Frank and Sarah, and their interest in each other becomes more evident. The romance still proceeds at a glacial pace, because, after all, once you have a Happily Ever After, it would be difficult to continue the story.

In Murder on Washington Square, Sarah's neighbor Nelson Ellsworth finds himself the suspect in the murder of a young woman whom he had been ready to marry. In previous volumes, Mrs. Ellsworth's favorite activity was sweeping her porch so she could keep track of the goings-on of her neighbors. But with reporters crowding her doorstep, looking for the scoop of Mr. Ellsworth, she's in hiding.

Sarah continues her tactic of detection-by-nosiness, although it's not as evident in this book. This dress features a cross-dresser, women who prefer their men married rather than single, and Sarah getting high on opium. Oh, and a kiss.

Murder on Mulberry Bend, by contrast, is my least favorite of the series so far. In this novel, a young woman from the Prodigal Son Mission is murdered in a park wearing Sarah's clothes. By coincidence, a man who helped her previous investigation lost his wife to a fever while she was volunteering at the same mission.

The story of a young woman murdered while wearing Sarah's clothes seemed to have so much potential, especially since Frank is finally beginning to get somewhere with his investigation of Sarah's husband's death. However, the author evidently didn't think of what I hoped for.

The mystery in this novel was very frustrating, and Frank is ordered to terminate the investigation, leaving Sarah much on her own. There are a host of suspects--all kinds of shady characters. It was darker in tone that most of Ms. Thompson's novels, and the progression of the romance between Frank and Sarah comes to a frustrating halt.

Still, it was an enjoyable tale with new characters who return in subsequent books.

In Murder on Marble Row, Ms Thompson is back in her groove with scintillating dialog and humorous situations. It also offers a return to high-society New York--or rather, it's steamy underbelly.

Mr. Gregory Van Dyke has been blown up in his office. Frank is given the job of solving the murder by Commissioner Roosevelt, himself. Mr. Van Dyke's heir, Creighton Van Dyke, is a prime suspect because of his association with "anarchists".

Sarah's mother--of all people--helps Sarah solve this murder. The situations they find themselves in are hilarious, especially when the two of them venture to New York's rough Lower East Side to visit the anarchists. Their stop in the First Street Saloon was especially fun, but it wasn't as fun as Frank Malloy taking the two of them to a chop suey joint for lunch.

Great fun. However, this novel was way too plot heavy with almost no character development.

Which is my only flaw in the series, itself. I read books like this for the characters, not the plots. Alexander McCall Smith is a master of writing character development stories under the guise of mysteries with his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Sure, the mysteries are fun and the whodunits are a blast to guess, but the characters are the true reason I keep coming back.

I have the rest of the books in the series except the last one, but I probably won't read them for another three months or so. I'd love to read them back-to-back, but all the fantasies on my self are calling my name, and I'd better not neglect them for long.

If you like historical mysteries, these are wonderful. If you don't, you might want to try them anyway and like me, discover a new addiction!


Chicory said...

`after all, once you have a Happily Ever After it would be difficult to continue the story'.

Willingness to go on into married life is one of the reasons I love Anne Perry's Victorian mysteries so much. The Inspector Pitt mysteries have the hero and heroine married by book two. In the William Monk mysteries, the romance drags a little, but they do finally get married, and the characters continue to grow. (They're so sweet the way they worry about each other.)

My point (besides `read these books!') is that it's possible to do a series where weddings aren't the end of the romance -and do them well.

Kimber Li said...

Nice. I've been drawn to more mysteries and romantic suspense lately. Got no idea why. Never happened to me before. Well,
'cept when I was an itty bitty girl and had that crush on Shaun Cassidy. See? Even back then, I had a thing for blonds.

Tia Nevitt said...

Anne Perry is one author I need to add to my list. Alexander McCall Smith is another author who can manage this. In the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, she not only gets married, but her husband gets involved in her mysteries. Those are very fun to read.

And Janet Evanovich solves this problem by switching the leading man from book to book, with the protagonist happily admitting to herself that she's a slut. but you love her anyway.

Tia Nevitt said...

Oops, I meant to say that the protagonist (Stephanie Plum) switches between two leading men from book to book. She doesn't have a different man every book.

Chicory said...

Lol. I figured you were talking about the character.