Murder in Chinatown
(Gaslight Mystery #9)
By Victoria Thompson
Sarah Brandt has made her uneasy way to Chinatown to deliver a baby. There she meets a group of Irish women who, completely alone at Ellis Island, married Chinese men in the same predicament. But even as a new century dawns, New Yorkers still cling to their own kind, scorning children of mixed races.
When the new mother’s half-Chinese, half-Irish niece goes missing, Sarah knows that alerting the police will accomplish nothing, and seeks the one person she can turn to-Detective Sergeant Malloy.
And when the missing girl is found dead in a Chinatown alley, Sarah and Malloy have ample suspects in her murder-from both sides of Canal Street.
In the ninth installment of the Gaslight Mysteries, Sarah and Malloy bring us to yet another neighborhood in New York City at the end of the 19th century – Chinatown. Unexpectedly to me, Victoria Thompson presents a social situation at the time in which Chinese men married European immigrant women because Chinese women weren’t allowed in America at the time. The handful of families we meet in Murder in Chinatown are very comfortable. The husbands have multiple businesses that keep their families comfortable. The families live in clean and spacious homes with beautiful furniture and knick-knacks that are popular at the time. This is countered in this book, and previous installments, by the tougher living situations of some immigrant families – tenements, too many people in a single room, etc.
Despite the benefit to the women these mixed marriages aren’t viewed highly by many. And their children have their own hurdles – not truly Chinese, not truly Irish (in this instance). Prejudice is rampant which makes the murder of a young woman from Chinatown difficult to solve.
Sarah gets involved in yet another murder. In previous books she has enjoyed the process of detecting and helping Malloy who she knows is one of the few uncorrupt cops who wants to catch the real killer and not just accept a bribe to close the case. But ever since she has taken in a young girl and sees how her existence, or lack there of, has larger consequences than before Sarah truly tries not to get too involved in the case.
Not that Malloy sees it that way. Sarah is involved. She can’t help herself. And the family of the missing, then murdered, girl reach out to Sarah because they trust her since she delivered a baby for them. I enjoy how more and more Malloy wants Sarah by his side. And it’s amusing to see how her presence has been noticed by other policemen, so much so that when they hear she is involved, they automatically call for Malloy.
I believe the general timeline of the nine books is between eighteen months and two years. Sarah and Malloy have both lost their spouses to murder and childbirth, respectively. Over the years of periodic contact through cases and then through Sarah helping Malloy’s deaf son, they have developed feelings for each other that remain for the most part unspoken. The length of this type of courtship doesn’t feel drawn out. They met at a time when neither was looking for someone else. They have their own families and careers and lives. But there was a moment in a previous book when Malloy thought a girl found dead in a park was Sarah (the girl was wearing clothes Sarah had donated) and he couldn’t calm down until her saw her in person and actually pulled her into a crushing hug. Malloy knew how he felt and Sarah realized what it meant that he was so scared but they need to move slowly. There is too much on the line.
I love this series because of the history and locale. Thompson introduces something new for me to learn in every book. And the relationship between Sarah and Malloy is long term and I am invested in seeing it blossom.