There seem to be a lot of Victorian historical mysteries with female protagonists out
there these days, but Maids of Misfortune is not just copycat more of the same. The
setting is 1879 San Francisco—a city just a few decades removed from the tents and
shacks of the Gold Rush—rather than the more usual New York or London, giving things
a different flavor. Annie Fuller, the protagonist, is also a step or two outside the norm.
A widow of five yearsí standing, sheís forced to turn the house she inherited into a
boardinghouse to make ends meet, because her husband squandered away her fortune before killing
himself. She also supplements her income as the exclusive "clairvoyant" Madam Sibyl, specializing
in business and domestic advice. She comes by the business advice legitimately—her
father was a financier who trained her from childhood and while she tried to make a legitimate
career out of that training, the simple fact is that "people, men in particular, would rather
trust their lives to the stars than to the advice of a woman."
In the space of a few days her life gets turned upside down when she receives a letter
from one of her late husbandís creditors threatening to take away her boardinghouse to pay
off the debt, and Madam Sibylís favorite client, Matthew Voss—a man who had also become a
friend—is found dead. The police think he committed suicide in the face of impending
bankruptcy, but Annie knows better—thanks to her advice he was in an excellent financial
position, and so she believes he was murdered and his assets stolen.
Annie is given a legitimate reason to investigate when Vossís lawyer tells her that Voss
left Madam Sibyl some stock. If she can recover his assets, it should just about cover the debt
threatening her boardinghouse. And so she does the unthinkable for a respectable widow, going
undercover as a maid in Vossís household where the answers must lie, becoming one of the maids
of misfortune referred to in the title.
Maids of Misfortune is smoothly written, with appealing characters
and a strong female lead in a story filled with real detection,
a lot of period detail (is there a better way to get into the details
of everyday life than through the eyes of a servant?), and a bit
of banter-filled romance to help stir the pot. Iíll admit that I
saw most of the solution coming, but I enjoyed reading on regardless
to see how it was done. Fun reading for historical mystery fans,
especially those with a taste for Victorian settings on the look
for something a bit different.
Reviews of other titles int this series
Maids of Misfortune [review]
Uneasy Spirits [review