No Pity For the Dead (Old San Francisco)
by Nancy Herriman
Cover Artist: Juliana Kolesova
Review by Steven Kuehn
NAL Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451474902
Date: 02 August 2016 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
A bit of restoration work around the office doesn't immediately bring to mind images of danger and intrigue. However, if it's 1867 and you're with a friend digging for hidden gold in a cellar and you uncover a corpse, the situation is a bit different.
This opening scene sets the stage in No Pity for the Dead, the second book in Nancy Herriman's Mystery of Old San Francisco series. The first book, No Comfort for the Lost, introduced Celia Davies, a British nurse now running a free clinic for the poor women of San Francisco, and Nicholas Greaves, a police detective and troubled Civil War veteran. Owen Cassidy, a local orphan and friend of Celia Davies, stumbles across a corpse during building renovations at Martin & Company, a ruthless group of real estate developers.
Both Celia and Detective Greaves have ties to one of the partners, Frank Hutchinson. Celia is close to his wife, Jane Hutchinson, and his daughter Grace is the close friend of Celia's cousin and ward, Barbara. Detective Greaves' relationship with Frank Hutchinson is considerably less cordial, as the two men have a long-standing grudge.
Buoyed by Jane's pleas and her natural inquisitiveness, Celia is soon investigating the crime, much to the aggravation of Detective Greaves. While butting heads on occasion, Celia and Detective Greaves independently begin to unravel the secret lives of the Martin & Company partners. As they push forward in their investigations, the killer starts to push back and soon both are in deadly danger.
No Pity for the Dead is an excellent historical mystery with interesting and well-developed primary and secondary characters. The plot is intriguing; the overlapping layers of mystery fit together seamlessly, and the pacing of the book deftly pulls the reader along. Above all, Herriman masterfully creates a wonderful sense of atmosphere. The reader is subtly drawn into the world of post-Civil War San Francisco; the places, the people, the sounds, and the smells. Nothing ruins historical fiction for me faster than an author who bludgeons the reader with details, provided only to impress upon the reader their knowledge of the time period or location. Herriman, in contrast, employs a light touch that creates an authentic sense of place that is quite convincing. Interesting tidbits of historic San Francisco are worked in, highlighting the detailed research conducted by the author.
Like any good mystery, No Pity for the Dead is driven by plot and character. There is much more character development in this book than in the first in the series. While it can be read as a stand-alone novel, I would recommend reading No Comfort for the Lost first. This approach allows for a better appreciation of the changing dynamic of Celia and Detective Greaves' relationship. The reader will also develop a better feel for the secondary characters, many of whom have considerable influence in several subplots in the second book.
No Pity for the Dead is an intriguing historical mystery that will appeal to readers of historical fiction, traditional mysteries, and novels with a strong female lead. I am looking forward to reading Nancy Herriman's next novel in this series!