This is a book review for Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke, available here.
I really wanted to like this book. It’s a murder mystery set in San Francisco during the Victorian Era. The heroine, Annie, is sassy, strong and independent and only too aware of how difficult that makes her life in a society where women are nothing but meek and submissive property. Nate Dawson, the young lawyer who is also at the heart of the story, is also a mostly likeable chap. I say mostly because even discounting the sexist attitudes of the time, he’s a moody guy who takes it out on everyone around him, usually Annie, with no discernible justification.
The murder mystery winds carefully through all the many possibilities of suspect, uncovering unusual behaviour and secrets. On the face of it, I suspect that much of Victorian life genuinely was like this – maids sneaking out to have illicit affairs, young men forced into businesses they didn’t want to inherit and casual racism against the chinamen in the city. In that regard, the book is a meticulously researched snapshot of every day life in that Era. The daily life of the characters is brought to life in fine detail, down to the smell of the chemicals they used for polishing.
It’s clear that the author has really done her research and should be commended for that.
I think the reason I struggled with this book is that it’s a very long, very slow read. There’s no rushing river of absorbing imagination to dive into. It’s a slow trickle, wending its way through bucolic hills, and easy to get distracted from. Sometimes the detail was just too much, detracting from the story.
There was also a glaring plot hole in the story in that if Annie had taken her position in the Voss household with the express purpose of searching all the rooms and it was clear to everyone that Nellie, the household maid, was involved in some way with the events of that night, it’s a bit beyond any stretch of the imagination that it wouldn’t have occurred to such an intelligent woman to search property belonging to the maid that had been left out in the room she (Annie) was sleeping in, in plain sight. I understand why it was done that way for the purposes of the story, but it was just too clumsy.
I would recommend this if you are a reader that likes the long, slow burn of a detailed story. But if, like me, you like the wild ride, I’d suggest finding something else to read.