Sarah Brandt is a widow who continues her husband’s medical practice in the only way she can – as a midwife to anyone who needs her in turn-of-the-century New York City. This is a city where tenements and mansions are within corners of each other. Sarah used to be part of the rich elite until she fell in love and chose to leave that world behind. Her work takes her to a variety of neighborhoods and locales. At a boardinghouse, she delivers a baby and has a shock – a young female boarder looks strikingly similar to a friend Sarah used to have in her old life. She thinks nothing of it until she returns to check on mother and baby and learns that the young boarder has been murdered.
Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy oversees the murder investigation at a time when Roosevelt is attempting to reform the corrupt police system. Malloy itches to move up the ladder and secure a better position so saves his money for bribes in case Roosevelt soon departs, the meritocracy with him. Malloy meets Sarah at the boardinghouse and is disarmed by her personality which is quite unlike those in the neighborhood. To unnerve her, he invites her into the murdered girl’s room to help him search her belongings. Reluctantly, she accompanies him and discovers that the vision of her former friend was actually that same friend’s younger sister.
Now Malloy is investigating the murder of a society family which entails an entirely new set of rules and restrictions. His supervisor, under pressure from the girl’s family, tells Malloy to stop investigating. Malloy, under pressure from that confounding Sarah, continues the investigation with her help. Sarah returns to her former neighborhoods to learn what she can about the girl’s life. She even reconnects with her mother, first for information, gradually for the relationship itself.
Malloy and Sarah take their individual paths into worlds known and unknown to seek justice for the murdered girl. They each have their reasons to commit to the case which are carefully withheld then revealed. The interchange between third person sections over their shoulders allows a peek into their motivations and what each thinks of the other.
A murder scene is not the best place for a meet-cute. However, by the end of the book Malloy and Sarah have begrudging respect for each other. There are no sparks flying or obvious noticing of shapely-filled garments. As the first in the Gaslight Mysteries, it is obvious their connection will remain. In what shape is intriguing. The fact that no romance occurred was refreshing. I still like the characters enough that I want these two lonely, dedicated souls to end up together but I hope it takes a long time.
And I have to assume that they will get together at some point. The timeframe of the series would not allow a married woman to interact so freely with a single man, especially a potentially corrupt police officer, unless the husband was very liberal and trusting. Sarah may have many freedoms because of her status as a widow but there is a limit.
(Side note – I’ve always found it interesting that a widow, no matter her age, was suddenly able to move more freely through society than an unmarried young woman. I suppose because she knew things an unmarried woman wouldn’t know – i.e. sex – she can have this freedom? I’ll need to research this.)
I enjoyed this page turner. The reveal at the end wasn’t a complete surprise but there were enough plausible red herrings to pursue that the book didn’t feel like it was wasting time to follow the leads. The ending is quite dramatic, slightly like Rebecca, with the same sickening poetry to it. The next in the series is already in my library queue.