Tag Archives: murder

Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper

 

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Fanny Newcomb, the plucky heroine of Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper, is a woman ahead of her age and from the first sentence, I knew Fanny was my kind of girl.

shoppingThe story opens on a Friday in April, 1889. Fanny is battling with a Hammond typewriting machine and “all hell would break loose” if she hadn’t mastered it by the time her typing students arrived the following Wednesday. Fanny had managed her Father’s law office for a decade but she’d never seen a typewriter before, something she’d failed to mention to her employer, Sylvia Giddings, Principal and Founder of Wisdom Hall Settlement House, at the interview. When her father died, Fanny lost her livelihood, failed as a lady’s companion and run out of resources. The school, located in the impoverished Irish district of New Orleans, offered business classes to the local women and appealed to Fanny’s sense of justice. And besides, teaching was better than marrying and being relegated to home, hearth and afternoon tea with New Orleans society ladies. A life without meaningful work is anathema to Fanny.

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Hull House

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Fanny is distracted by the incessant ringing of the infirmary bell and rushes to find twelve-year-old Liam who delivers the news: Dr. Olive Giddings, Sylvia’s sister, is needed at Connor’s Court because someone has been murdered. The women race to the scene and find Nora, Fanny’s star business student, strangled and meet Charity Hospital’s ambulance driver, a doctor whose manner horrifies Olive. As the crowd gathers, rumors start and soon the cry goes out, “Jesus! Joseph and Mary! It’s Jack the Ripper! Here in New Orleans!” The morning edition of the Daily Picayune echoes the crowd at the scene, reporting the woman has had her throat cut. The police don’t think it’s Jack the Ripper and come to Wisdom Hall Settlement House to arrest Sylvia’s carpenter, Karl, for the murder. Fanny knows Karl was working at the school at the time of the murder, added incentive to investigate the crime. She enlists Sylvia and Olive, Liam, beau Lawrence Decatur, tabloid journalist Clarence Holloway and even N.O. Police detective Daniel Crenshaw to help her identify the killer, free Karl and bring Nora the justice she deserves.

 

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Unknown-6Fanny’s investigation reveals more than a murderer. It takes readers through the colorful underbelly of New Orleans’s slums, saloons, prostitution and houses of prostitution. Revealed are the gulfs between the “haves” and “have nots”, the deep prejudices the Irish and German immigrants held for each other and the ingrained racism of white against black, regardless of social standing. Revealed is the rigid class system, hatred of immigrants, lack of concern for the poor and the blatant systems keeping them from rising in station.

 

The story is a fascinating look into the Gilded Age’s society, its hierarchies and mores. Women were at the bottom and unmarried women the lowest. Fanny questions her own motives and place in the world. Should she marry? Should she strive for independence? Fanny, Sylvia and Olive are spinsters and meddling in men’s work: schools, medicine, investigations. Society thwarts them at every turn. They are shunned, ridiculed, patronized and harangued by a priest as “bad women” on par with prostitutes for being unmarried and working, and like prostitutes, deserving of horrific deaths. In this intolerant and compassionless climate, it’s no wonder a wave of terror overtakes the city. Fanny, Sylvia and Olive want to exonerate Karl, but more, they fight the battle against ignorance and oppression for poor women and for their society as a whole. They are early social justice crusaders patterned after British Beatrice Webb, Americans Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Star, and Progressive Era pioneers Eleanor McMain, Eliza Nicholson and Sara Mayo.

At the end, Daniel Crenshaw is lauded as the hero to solve the case although it couldn’t have been done without Fanny and the Giddings sisters. Fanny understood that “Certainly, no one would have believed that Fanny, Sylvia, and Olive could have interjected themselves into a grisly murder, studied pornography, or visited a whorehouse and a prison. No lady could have attempted any of those social offences.”

Although author Ana Brazil’s historical detail is well researched and rich, at no time does her writing become didactic or does history drown-out the suspense and intrigue. Fanny is a risk taker and has a gift for theft. She manages to steal important documents that help her win the respect of her allies and solve the case. Between the three women of Wisdom Hall Settlement House, they bring most of the resources they need—Fanny’s clever, intelligent mind and legal training, Olive’s deep knowledge of the human body and medicine, and Sylvia’s connections and social standing—to solve the case. Each has something to offer, but it’s Fanny who has the mental acuity to see the patterns and put them together, leading her into extreme dangers. My pulse pounded during the story’s harrowing climax (no spoilers!)

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At the end, Brazil leaves readers with hope that there will be another Fanny Newcomb book. “But Fanny Newcomb also knew that she was not finished with investigating or questioning or detecting. And that she would look for any opportunity to seek out justice again. . . .” And what was that fission I noticed between Fanny and Daniel Crenshaw? I can’t wait for the next adventure to see if Fanny will cave to societal expectations or forge ahead doing what she loves.

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anapat_1505963276_75I want to wish Ana Brazil hearty congratulations on the publication of her first historical novel. It’s a fun, fast, informative, can’t-put-it-down read for anyone who loves New Orleans, the Gilded Age, strong women protagonists, mysteries and the Southern writing tradition. I love them all!

For a photographic exploration of Fanny’s time visit Ana’s Pinterest Board: Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper

 

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Art and Crime—A Perfect Pairing

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Art evokes emotion within the beholder and that emotion isn’t always pretty. A work of art can soothe us, make us laugh, cry, or long for something lost—and art can send us spiraling out of control to possess it. Art is also big business, both legitimate and nefarious. It isn’t surprising so many stories emanate from the art world. Art can mask a multitude of secrets and make a person rich and dangerously powerful, something Danielle O’Rourke, chief fundraiser for San Francisco’s Devor Museum of Art and Antiquities, is reminded of the hard way in Mixed Up with Murder. 

On the recommendation of Geoff Johnson, the Devor’s board chairman and board member of Lynthorpe College in Bridgetown, Massachusetts, Dani O’Rourke is hired to facilitate the acceptance of a valuable art collection and the twenty million dollar endowment to support it from wealthy class of 1970 alumnus, Vincent Margoletti. It’s an important gift that will enhance the college’s reputation and everyone wants a speedy and legal settlement of terms. That’s the problem—Margoletti made his billions brokering Silicon Valley tech deals and is known to play an angle if it will get him ahead. Dani is there to watch the school’s back.

 imagesDani begins information gathering with Gabby, a researcher in the Development office who provides her with files and a tour of the art gallery, but appointments are postponed and Dani is stood up by her key contact, Larry Saylor. Saylor turns up drowned in a pond on the golf course. Dani is pressured to sign off on the gift, as the college atmosphere turns dark. To confuse matters, Dani’s wealthy ex-husband is in the area for a class reunion and hounds her to attend functions, she and her boyfriend aren’t connecting, her Devor work is piling up and she’s losing her intern to a permanent job offer.

IMG_1605Dani and Gabby uncover irregularities with the deal, and when a terrible event strikes too close for comfort, Dani makes finding answers personal. She is followed, threatened, accused and held against her will as the plot twists to its surprising climax.

 Mixed Up with Murder is an engaging, smart read in part because author Susan C. Shea gives readers an insider’s look at the business of fine art. It’s a money-driven world where the wealthy and the highbrow play for high stakes. The other part of the equation is Dani O’Rourke, a polished, witty, and sharply intelligent professional who knows her job and how to read people—skills needed to part donors from their money to support the San Francisco museum. She really has only one foible: Dani attracts trouble. She’s written with depth and humor, making her a thoroughly delightful protagonist. I’m dying to know what will happen with her love interest in the next book.

As well crafted as the protagonist, the plot moves in surprising ways. It never lags and I couldn’t predict the turns. Shea’s writing style is smooth, clear, informative and never redundant. It’s obvious that Shea respects her readers and trusts us to understand the text without dumbing-down the language or overwriting to impress us. The story flows through concepts, images and dialog in a natural and logical progression.

Mixed Up with Murder is the third in the Danielle O’Rourke series. I don’t know how I missed the first two books, but I’ll be going back to catch up with this strong, smart character and her compelling world of art, money and murder.

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Author Susan C. Shea

P. S.

I want to than Susan C. Shea for providing me with an Advanced Reader Copy and congratulate her  on today’s (2/2/16) launch of Mixed Up with Murder. Reading this book has been a pleasurable experience on every level. Did I mention I couldn’t put it down? I’m ranking Dani O’Rourke right up there with my favorite sleuths: Phryne Fisher, Laurel McKay, China Bayles, and Aimée Leduc. They’re all different, but they’ll all smart women, driven to use their wit and wits in heroic ways.

 

 

 

 

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