My rating: 4 of 5 stars to M. Louisa Locke‘s Maids of Misfortune, the first book in the “Victorian San Francisco” mystery series and a great blend of murder mystery charm and historical shenanigans. I found the book on Amazon as a free Kindle e-read and thought it would be something slightly different… and it was a welcome read I recommend for anyone looking for a historical cozy.
Annie Fuller is a 26-year-old widow, owning and operating a b&b out of her Victorian home by day, and working as Madam Sybil by night (no, not a harlot!). She’s not exactly psychic, and definitely not interested in a seance or a crystal ball; she’s a financial wizard who helps people make money by reading their astrology and horoscopes. As a woman in a man’s world, nearly 150 years ago, she had to pretend she was just clairvoyant in order to build her client portfolio and be successful. But when her favorite customer appears to commit suicide, she’s just not having it. With all the protocols of 1879 in tow, she disguises herself as a maid in her former client’s house to discover which member of his family killed him for the money he had just made in the stock market. Along the way, she stumbles upon a second death and is able to convince the police that her former client’s death wasn’t suicide. But she’s also earned a few enemies who don’t believe she’s a real maid. With a cast of friends and clients helping her keep up the ruse, Annie investigates using good ole’ fashioned wit and gossip, given there are no computers, cars or cell phones. But she’s got another problem to deal with too… her late husband, that buffoon, left her with an enormous debt and the loan shark is trying to steal her b&b out from under her in order to even the score. Who knew the 70’s… the 1870’s… had so much murderous fun!?!?!
1. The plot is strong and full of red herrings. The struggle to find the killer without any modern technology or transportation provides an entirely different (and long forgotten) mode of investigation: using yours words, your eyes and your ears.
2. The Victorian setting is charming and offers a much needed change of pace for the cozy murder mystery. Readers will flock to Agatha Christie’s quaint English villages, but here’s a perfect setting for historical American heritage. And who doesn’t love San Francisco… especially in the 1870s… Gold Rush! Publishing! Horse-drawn carriages!
1. The pace is a little slow. It’s not at all bad or painful, but I think it could use a little extra spice. It fits with the time period, but I think with a bit of panache, the story would jump even further off the page. Cover a little more about what’s happening in SF at the time. Add some history to the founding families. Relate it to a modern reader so they invest a little more for the whole series.
2. Explore more about Madam Sybil. She’s great… I want to see her in action and understand how she works!
There is something different here… something worth giving a chance. If you’re a historical fiction fan, with a potential interest in mystery, pick it up and read it. There is a lot of description about life in the 1870s, which will appeal to traditional readers.
If you love cozies, the “small, cozy little town” isn’t part of this series; however, the mindset and the relationships are absolutely one on the same: gossip is abound and people know exactly what to say. I look forward to the next book in this series.