Monday, June 29, 2009

Murder On Waverly Place - Victoria Thompson


Murder On Waverly Place
A Gaslight Mystery
Victoria Thompson
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery/Historical

Arriving home after the grueling delivery of twins, midwife Sarah Brandt is surprised to find her mother, the society matron Elizabeth Decker in her home. As it happens, Mrs. Decker is there to ask a favor of Sarah. Mrs. Decker wants Sarah to accompany her on a visit to a spiritualist, recommended by a longtime friend. When Sarah questions the reason for the visit, Mrs. Decker admits that she wants to contact her late daughter Maggie and beg forgiveness for the way the family treated her.

Sarah is the pragmatic sort and tries to reason with her mother. But it’s clear that Mrs. Decker is in emotional torment. Sarah goes with her mother and witnesses an incredible performance by Madame Serafina, complete with darkened room and disembodied voices. Later, unbeknownst to Sarah, Mrs. Decker returns to the medium for another séance. This time, a member of the séance circle dies, with a knife to the back. But the door was closed, the room in utter darkness, and all participants were holding hands in a circle. Not only is there a murder to solve, but, as a member of high society, Mrs. Decker is in danger of becoming the object of scandal.

As always, the author does a wonderful job of depicting the era. Details of daily life add flavor without ever overpowering the main narrative. The early scene in which Mrs. Decker begs her daughter to attend the séance is heartbreaking. That, along with the ‘inside’ information on cons by maid Maeve, makes those who paid huge sums to attend séances very sympathetic. And, of course, it makes perfect sense that Sarah would want to protect her mother, both from the unscrupulous and from tarnishing her good name. Like most books in the series (MURDER IN CHINATOWN, MURDER ON BANK STREET) this novel works quite well as a standalone, but readers who enjoy historical mysteries would be advised to seek out the author’s extensive backlist.

Rating: 8
June 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22775-6 (hardcover)

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