What I'm Reading: Gaslight Mysteries

Aug 15 2010 Published by under [Etc], What I'm Reading

Every December my spouse prowls local bookstores for holiday gifts. On Christmas morning, I never know if I will open one huge box or many small packages, but I know I will get books.

My  hubster looks for new mystery series for me. This past year I received 6 of the 12 Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson; the other 6 now reside on my Kindle, and all have been read in order. Over a period of 6 weeks. Yes, I loved them.

The protagonists of the series include Sarah Brandt, a midwife in New York City in 1896 who rejected her wealthy Knickerbocker family and supports herself with her profession following the death of her idealistic physician husband. While delivering a baby, she encounters an Irish detective, Frank Malloy, in the first book. The victim turns out to be from a wealthy family, and Sarah's "interference" in the investigation proves indispensable in solving the crime. Malloy has issues of his own; the police force has been rocked by Theodore Roosevelt's efforts to introduce professionalism and remove the bribes and corruption that have characterized the force. "Uncle Teddy," as Sarah calls him, has also brought Jews and Italians onto the force amid controversy.

Of course, as a former romance novelist, Thompson allows the "rich girl" and "completely unsuitable boy" to be attracted to each other. Malloy's wife has died in childbirth, so he has a negative reaction to the midwife, even as he is tempted to sneak a peak at her ankles. Then Sarah visits his home where she learns that his son survived the delivery that killed his wife. She eventually figures out that the child is deaf, not retarded, and helps the detective find schooling for him, as well as a surgeon who can repair the little tyke's club foot. Over the course of the dozen books and multiple crimes, the pair become more attracted and involved. Remember, this is 1896- no bodice-ripping in these books, although I keep hoping!

The crimes in the first books were not challenging for a modern (warped?) reader, but puzzling out the killer has been more difficult with each mystery. The development of Coney Island, various immigrant neighborhoods, Victorian fascination with the occult, and the eugenics movement have figured into the cases. The latest volume, Murder on Lexington Avenue, features the debate between signing or solely lip-reading for deaf communication.

The Gaslight Mysteries provide perfect escapism for the beach or airport- not great literature, but great fun.

4 responses so far

  • Patchi says:

    I love historical mysteries! Now that I'm done with Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael series, I've been looking for a new one... Thanks!

  • shanon says:

    i love to read these books! I am finished up with the series for now . let me ask you what other mysteries have you read in this genre? I have read some of Anne Perry but I am looking to read other authors any suggestions?

  • Erin says:

    I agree with Whizbang completely. Although the mysteries can at times be a bit "un-mysterious." And I wish there was a little "bodice-ripping" as you put (especially with V. Thompson having a background in romance novels!). I am transfixed. The romance on the time period and setting is just wonderful for readers looking for an escape from modern life. You can't help but be drawn to Sarah and Frank. I am amazed at how romantic a touch or simple kiss can be in the right light. I suppose I am somewhat feeble minded because after two books I began to scan the Internet for actors who would embody these characters. Sarah, for me anyway is Joanne Froggatt, and Frank Malloy is Michael Fassenbender. I'll keep reading!

  • Kerry says:

    Have read all of the GasLight mysteries except for the last 2. Can't wait to get both of these. Having lived in Manhattan for 25 yrs. I can envision all the places that sarah B. goes too. Great reading!

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