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.