Berkley, Mar 2003, 6.99, 352 pp.
Around 1900, midwife Sarah Brandt escorts Richard Dennis through the lower Manhattan slums to the Prodigal Son Mission where his deceased wife voluntarily worked before dying because he needs to understand why Hazel found solace at this safe place for girls. The wealthy Richard is overwhelmed with what he sees, but at the mission, Mrs. Wells provides kindness to the guilt laden Richard. Sarah gifts clothing for the misfortunate.
Not long afterward, Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy is stunned when he recognizes the ugly hat of a murder victim. He thinks Sarah, who he cares deeply for, is dead. However, the corpse is someone else who later Sarah identifies as Emilia, a person she met at the Prodigal Son Mission. Over Frank's objections, Sarah begins her own inquiries that will place her in danger from a serial killer whose previous homicides have been ignored because the victims were humanity's forgotten.
The fifth Brand gaslight mystery is an engaging amateur sleuth tale though the killer seems somewhat obvious early on even with clever twists and turns to obscure the culprit's identity. The story line is loaded with action and strong characters, but what makes the tale is the vivid description of Manhattan at the turn of the century. Readers feel the awe and fear of Dennis making his first sojourn on the train and into the slums; the audience senses the miracle of the successful surgery performed on the foot of Frank's son (commonplace today). Victoria Thompson writes another delectable historical mystery that will provide plenty of pleasure for her fans and send newcomers seeking the previous “Murder on...” novels.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner