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Smoke and Mirrors
A Miss Barnum Mystery – Book I
Casey Daniels

Severn House
10 July 2017/ ISBN 9780727887252

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde


1842: Evie Barnum works at her brother P. T. Barnum’s museum in New York. When an old friend from her childhood appears begging for her help she is not keen, as too much contact with her former life might unearth a secret. When the man is found dead, one of the “freaks” on display at the museum who got into an altercation with the victim is thought to be responsible, but he disappears. It is up to Evie to clear his name and find the real culprit, while also working out what the dead man wanted her to do.

This is hopefully the first in a new series of mysteries about P. T. Barnum’s (fictitious) crime solving sister. There is a lot in here to enjoy, from the author’s evocation of 1840s New York, to the museum with its interesting exhibits and Evie’s fast-paced adventures. Evie is a modern miss in many ways, with her direct way of speaking to people of any class and bold sorties into the city’s less savory side. She has a mysterious past which is dealt with throughout the book, and a rocky relationship with her brother’s unsuitably named wife, Charity. Her dealings with the museum’s “freaks” are more positive, and before reading the novel I wondered how this was going to be handled. We see that Barnum treats them well, whereas other places that exhibit them usually do not. Apart from the police’s assumption that “Jeffrey The Lizard Man of Borneo” is guilty (based mostly on the fact that he had attacked the dead man earlier in the day), we do not really get to see how ordinary New Yorkers interact with them. Maybe this will be dealt with in later books. As this is a mystery most of the story involves detecting, which is personally how I like my mysteries (i.e., not too much that detracts from the crime solving), and Evie gets to chase red herrings and there is an interesting denouement. I do hope there will be more entries in this exciting and unusual series.

Reviewed 2017