|Midwife Sarah Brandt has chosen to live downtown near the Lower East Side patients she tends rather than uptown with her wealthy, influential parents. A young widow, Sarah has chosen a difficult life for a young woman in turn-of-the-century New York, yet there is no other life she can imagine living. Sarah has recently taken charge of Aggie, a young, mute orphan she found at a mission and has a developing relationship with Detective Frank Malloy and his young deaf son Brian.
Sarah’s husband, Dr. Tom Brandt,was murdered over four years ago and Sarah has tried to continue Tom’s work with patients who do not have a lot. Sarah is summoned to Lenox Hill by the Lintons who believe their daughter Grace is pregnant.
Grace is seventeen years old and considered to be simple. Grace’s mother can’t imagine how Grace would have become pregnant since she is never left alone. Sarah quickly rules out incest and turns to the church where Grace spends most of her time out of the house. At the church, Sarah meets the charismatic minister, Oliver Upchurch, and his bitter wife.
Reverend Upchurch is a bit like the Pied Piper and has a devoted following of young boys. At first, Sarah suspects Upchurch as being the father of Grace’s child, but Malloy quickly learns that Upchurch’s tastes lie elsewhere. After the Reverend is exposed, he dies after drinking poisoned wine out of a chalice during a Sunday service. There is no shortage of parishioners willing to confess to the murder, but Frank and Sarah easily discredit each confessor.
Now not only is Sarah faced with the task of locating the father of
Grace’s baby, she must also solve Upchurch’s murder and try to
restore a modicum of dignity back to the boys of Reverend Upchurch. Malloy is also investigating the murder of Dr. Brandt at Sarah’s
father’s request. Malloy isn’t sure whether the truth will
bring Sarah a sense of closure or prove to be more painful for her, but he forges ahead uncertain how his investigation may affect his relationship with Sarah.
Murder on Lenox Hill recreates early twentieth century New York City, both the Lower East Side and uptown with an authenticity that transports the reader back in time. Sarah is a very independent young woman and is willing to live within certain confines of the mores of the time while still pushing some limits. Sarah shows an amazing amount of grace and restraint, where Malloy’s mother, who whole-heartedly disapproves of her son’s relationship with Sarah, is concerned. Sarah helped Malloy learn more about Brian’s deafness and set up surgery for Brian’s clubfoot, helping father and son grow closer. Most recently, Sarah has taken in Aggie and while she would prefer to adopt her, is content to be appointed her legal guardian. Sarah could easily have slipped back into her old life, yet chooses a more modest lifestyle, turning to her family only when their
help benefits others.
Sarah puts her heart into everything she does, whether it is helping Grace and her family with the pregnancy or trying to help the boys from
Upchurch’s congregation, or even helping Malloy solve Upchurch’s
murder, though many people are better off now that the Reverend is dead.
While Sarah’s and Frank’s mutual attraction is clear, readers
watching their relationship unfold will be more than patient for them both to be ready for each other. Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mysteries are first rate with a vivid historical setting and a hero and heroine that will keep readers eagerly returning to Sarah Brandt’s New York City.
--Jennifer Monahan Winberry