Murder on Bank Street: A Gaslight Mystery
by Victoria Thompson
Review by Carolyn Frank
Berkley Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425221518
Date: 03 June 2008 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy is investigating the Murder on Bank Street of Dr. Tom Brandt. In this gaslight mystery set in turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York City, police are all Irish and all corrupt. If no one pays a bribe, murders are not investigated. As the doctor was murdered four years ago and no bribes were paid, his wife, Sarah Brandt, has no idea who did it or why her husband was murdered. Making her own way in the world as a working midwife, Sarah has spent some time helping Malloy solve some crimes as described in prior books in this murder mystery series. Now with growing affection for Sarah, Malloy has decided to find out who murdered her husband.
Sarah Brandt still lives in the house where she and her husband had lived. But she now has a sort of adopted four year old daughter, Catherine, and a sixteen year old nursemaid, Maeve, both from the Prodigal Son Mission on the Lower East Side. Her next door neighbor, Mrs. Ellsworth, the local busybody also comes over to teach the girls to cook and help take care of the house. Sarah welcomes visits from Malloy, who shows up mostly to see her but always with the latest bit of information he has been able to ferret out.
Malloy has also talked with Sarah's wealthy father, Felix Decker. Mr Decker has agreed to help in the investigation by hiring of private investigators, from the Pinkerton Agency. Although the Pinkertons are able to provide large amounts of background information, Malloy does not trust them with politely interrogating his suspects and their families. Since polite society does not respect or want to have anything to do with the rather disreputable police, Malloy has his own issues in even obtaining interviews with them.
Overhearing Malloy's conversations with Sarah about his difficulties in obtaining access to the suspects' houses, Maeve decides to do some investigating on her own. Figuring she can talk her way in as a maid, she heads off leaving only a note promising to return in a few days. Both Sarah and Catherine are beside themselves with worry, but Maeve proves to be eminently resourceful and ultimately ends up being instrumental in solving the mystery.
This book gives a vivid portrait of the middle and upper middle classes in New York City a hundred years ago. This is the world neither of the tenements nor of the Astors, but of doctors and successful businessmen, and their families. And the internal functioning or disfunctioning of families, however constituted, is the major theme. In this male-dominated society, this is a story of how women and girls are oftentimes victims but can sometimes surmount the odds and make a positive difference. If, as a reader, you like cozies, you enjoy women with strong character, and you are intrigued by the world a century ago, you will enjoy this mystery novel.