Monday, 20 June 2011

Murder on Waverly Place by Victoria Thompson

This is the eleventh book in the Gaslight Mysteries series by Victoria Thompson. As such, there may be spoilers pertaining to earlier books in the series. Considering that each book’s plot is fairly independent of events in previous books, there shouldn’t be any major give aways, though.

Author: Victoria Thompson started out writing historical romances. In the late 90’s she turned her attention to cosy mystery instead. Now she writes about midwife, Sarah Brandt, and her policeman friend, Frank Malloy. In each book they team up to solve a different murder. I was attracted to this series because it is set in late 19th century New York, which is a new setting for me.

Presentation: Mass market paperback. The print is quite small but spaced in this book (editions of earlier books in the series are not spaced, I prefer this look.) There are 294 pages broken down into 16 chapters.

Story: Sarah Brandt’s sister, Maggie, died many years ago, giving birth to her son in a filthy fifth floor tenement apartment after their father disowned her and ruined her husband’s chances of getting a job that could support them. Mrs Decker, Sarah’s mother, has never forgiven herself for the role she played in her daughter’s death. Now, one of her friends has introduced her to the world of séances. Unwilling to go without moral support, she asks Sarah to join her and Sarah reluctantly agrees. There are some strange goings-on at the séance: the smell of roses, the sound of a baby crying… but all of those present do not get any real answers to their questions. Sarah in unconvinced and asks her mother not to return. Mrs Decker, though, is desperate to contact Maggie, to ask for her forgiveness, and so she returns. This time, however, something a little more sinister happens: one of the guests will not leave the house alive. Unwilling to give her own name to the police lest it be leaked to the media, thus potentially getting back to her husband (who does not know of her attempts to contact their dead daughter), Mrs Decker calls herself by her daughter’s name and asks for Frank Malloy to come and investigate. Malloy, realising that he’s going to need Sarah’s help in this matter, has her sent for, too, even though he knows that this will mean her getting embroiled in yet another murder investigation – something he’s not too happy about. But in a world where the rich are paying to contact the dead, nothing is as simple as it seems.

Thoughts and impressions:  The book was rather good fun. I’ve read certain reviews claiming that it wasn’t as good as previous books, but I enjoyed it more than Little Italy, Chinatown and Bank Street. The séances were portrayed very well, with just enough spooky. The obsession of those attending for answers from the dead (that they would likely never receive) was very realistic, including the lengths they were all willing to go to to keep getting their vague lack of answers.
As per usual when the killer is introduced early on in the book, I’d figured out who the murderer was, but I couldn’t figure out how they’d been able to commit the crime.
Sarah’s mother, always a delightful character, was once again an interesting addition to the story – caught between the delights of doing something she shouldn’t be doing and her upbringing that tells her not to do it. And towards the start of the story, was that the setting of a potential future romance for Maeve? It could be an interesting match. And Sarah’s palm reading telling her she’ll marry again? A good bit of info to ruminate on – though I wonder how many books we’ll have to get through before they even really begin their courtship, let alone marry. I wish Sarah and Frank would get over the “two different worlds” thing and advance in their relationship already. Sarah and Tom were two different worlds too, but that didn’t stop her!
I miss Brian, Malloy’s son. He hasn’t had any on-page time for the past couple of books now. It’s a shame because he’s a fun little thing. I prefer him to Catherine. I’m fact, I’m getting fed up with Sarah tearing up whenever Catherine hugs her or her mother or whoever in the books. The girl’s been living with her for months, and she’s always very affectionate. Sarah should get over it already.
We’re back to only the two POVs now, Maeve has lost hers again, which makes me question whether it was a good idea to introduce it in book 10.

Style: In this book, Thompson returns to her obsession for {adjective} eyes. I noticed it in early books, too. Thankfully it has evolved a bit since then. In an earlier book, one character’s eyes were frequently described and they were always described as “lovely eyes”. In this book, Serafina’s eyes are described as being lovely / wonderful / amazing no less than four times in two chapters! A bit overkill on the eye description front.

Final verdict: I enjoyed this one. I felt that advances were made in all the places that were important and I quite liked the romp into the world of séances and spiritualism! 4 stars.

Extra notes: No sex, no swearing. More aimed at an adult market than anything else.


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