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Still Life With Murder
Gilded Age Mysteries #1

by P B Ryan

      Nell Sweeney is eternally grateful that Dr Greaves saved her from a life of poverty and degradation, but her life takes another upturn when wealthy Boston Brahmin Viola Hewitt employs her as governess to little Grace, the daughter of a chambermaid who has been adopted by Viola. The Hewitts had four sons, but two of them were killed fighting in the recent War Between the States--or so they think. When they are told that their eldest son William is still alive and close by, it might be a time for rejoicing but for the fact that he is in prison, and liable to hang for murdering a man in front of witnesses. Stern August Hewitt has never liked the boy and is determined to see him executed, but Viola pleads with Nell to find out what really happened, and save him.

This is the first book in the acclaimed Gilded Age Mysteries series, and has many things to recommend it. 1860's Boston comes to vibrant life in Ms Ryan's capable hands, and the vast gulf between rich and poor is well-delineated. Nell makes a sensible and plucky heroine, and I didn't guess the denouement of this teasing plot. But the thing that stays in the memory is the author's tactile descriptions of the recent war and the experiences of soldiers. The period immediately after the conflict is not often described, and Ms Ryan paints a memorable picture of a surface calm, the "still life" of the title, while underneath passions roil. Her descriptions of opium addiction are certainly enough to deter readers from drug taking, and this alone is an extra bonus to a tidy package of well-drawn characters, lively story and historical verisimilitude.

The Book

Berkley Prime Crime (Penguin Putnam)
July 2003
Historical Crime [1868, Boston]
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The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2006
© 2006