Murder at Astor Place by Victoria Thompson

 Thompson, Victoria. Murder on Astor Place. New York: Berkeley Publishing Group. 1999.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

This is the first book in Thompson’s “Gaslight Mysteries” series, a series that was introduced to me by my colleague Ruth Ann. She also recommended the wonderful Dragonwyck by Anya Seton, because reading Thompson’s historic mysteries reminded her of reading Dragonwyck, another historic novel, but of the gothic rather than the mysterious sort. I’m not blogging about Dragonwyck, though, because PVPL doesn’t have a copy of it. I can highly recommend your buying a copy, reading it, and donating it to the library, if you’re so inclined (you’ll get to read a great book and do a good deed to boot), and then I can write about it here.

Anyway, enough of Dragonwyck and on to Victoria Thompson. People have made comparisons between Thompson’s series and the Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear, but (judging by this first book, anyway), this series doesn’t have the depth that Winspear’s series does. It doesn’t matter. When you’re having this much fun splashing around in the shallow end, you can let the Olympic divers, and all their seriousness, have the deep end. What’s not to love about a mystery that takes place in late 19th-century New York City and that features a widowed, “slumming,” former-blue-blood midwife-turned-sleuth and a cranky Irish policeman (it’s an unwritten law somewhere that all late 19th-century NYC policemen have to be Irish and cranky)? We all know they’re destined to fall in love with each other even though, right now, they have a hard time being in the same room together without getting extremely irritated.

The mystery here was quite predictable, but this isn’t the sort of series you read for the mystery. You read it for the setting, the fact that New York is like a character in the book, and you read it for the characters’ stories, which you soon find more interesting than the mystery they’re trying to solve. I will say that the mystery’s solution would have been shocking, I’m sure, to its 19th-century characters, but we 21st-century types could have spotted our murderer all the way in New Jersey. I also have to admit that I very much enjoyed the fact that a disguise was used at one point in the book. The likes of Sherlock Holmes often encountered disguises when solving mysteries, but most of those who lead lives of crime in contemporary mysteries don’t resort to them.

But, as I say, it’s not the mystery. The historical detail is great fun. I haven’t bothered to verify any of it, but if it’s all legitimate, Thompson certainly has done her research. I can’t emphasize enough, though, that the most fun of all is being introduced to Sarah, our midwife, and Frank, our grouchy policeman. They both have mysterious pasts of their own (of course), and we now know just enough about both of them to want more back (and forward) stories on them. What’s the deal with Sarah’s husband? What happened to Frank’s wife? His son? Will Sarah reconcile with her father (and should she?)? Thompson knows we want answers to these questions as well as a host of others. She’s got all the time in the world to give them to us, and I, for one, am looking forward to taking the time to get the answers, in fact, have already begun the second book in the series.  If you’d like, meet me over in that corner, the one to the left of the chandelier, where I plan to be hobnobbing with the Astors and the Roosevelts at the parties I anticipate being invited to while making my way through the  other books in the series.