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Monday, October 8, 2012

Review/Fangirling: The Gaslight Mysteries series

Okay so I'm like going apeshit over this series. It takes place in New York City in the late 1800s, I'm thinking like 1870s - 1880s. The main, recurring characters are Detective Frank Malloy, a rough and tough Irish detective hell bent on saving enough money for the bribe to make Captain, and a high-bred woman, Sarah Brandt, who left the wealth and social standing of her well-established family to marry a doctor, the late Tom Brandt, and become a nurse and midwife. Thrown together in odd circumstances, the pair makes a formidable team when it comes to solving murders in a city where the stark contrast between wealth and poverty is glaringly evident in all aspects.

Victoria Thompson does a remarkable job illustrating how difficult it was to live back then, in a sort of upstairs/downstairs way. The wealthy have it all thanks to their money, including the problems and complications that come with it, while the poor have nothing but grit and determination not to starve, from people living as servants to the poor, barefooted orphans who are as ruthless and cruel as any super villian.

Thompson also points out, time and time again, the hardships women of all social classes had back then; even a rich woman, if divorced by her husband, could literally be deprived of her children, money, the clothes off her back. She would be thrown out of the house and abandoned to thugs and pickpockets, rapists and starvation. Women, even with jobs in factories, couldn't make enough to live on their own thanks to the pitiful wages.

That's why Sara Brandt is such an anomaly, because she found a narrow niche in which to position herself, thanks to the training provided by her husband (who was murdered three years before the start of the series). Add to that her rebellion against wealth and comfort and privilege, her wit and humor, and you can see why she captivates, exasperates and ultimately charms Frank Malloy, who likewise earns the affection of Sarah, though both would be hard pressed to let the other person know.

Frank himself is a great character. He works in the police force which is more famous for its corruption and greed than doing its civil duty, despite Theodore Roosevelt's grand attempts at injecting a little integrity into it. While he plays along with the bribery game in order to advance in rank (bribery being the only way, as valor means nothing), he still has a moral backbone, which is only strengthened as Sarah's approval becomes more and more important to him. That, and being a good father to his poor deaf son, Brian, who was also born with a club foot and whose birth killed his late wife Katherine. He needs to make captain in order to provide a better life for his son and to get him into a school for the deaf, when his 3 year old boy is old enough.

Um, as you can tell, I am all over this series like white on rice. I can't get enough of the books! I started with the latest two in the series, then bought the first two, and checked out the two after that from the library. Now, since I'm waiting on books five and six to come to me, I have nothing to do but blog about them.

They're easy reads, nothing ooh-la-la about the writing like Dorothy L Sayers' mystery series about Lord Peter Whimsy. But they're also painstakingly researched which, as a fellow writer who had to do research about historical periods, impresses me to no end. I fucking hate research. Anyways, I love that I'm not only following a spark of romance in the books between Sarah and Frank, but am getting a wide-eyed glimpse into a world that is both very different, and then not so different, to our own current times.

I strongly recommend you give this series a try, but if you're planning on trying to reserve them at any of Tucson's libraries, and think you're going to bump me back on the waiting list you are wrong, pal. Wrong!!

Grade: A++

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