Murder on Bank Street
by Victoria Thompson

Berkley Prime Crime, 2008. ISBN 978-0-425-22151-8.
Reviewed by Sharon Lippincott
Posted on 06/01/2008

Fiction: Mystery

Do you know the origin of the Pinkerton Detective Agency? Do you know about public perception of the bicycle in its early days? Do you know about "Old Maid's Disease" and its various manifestations? I especially enjoy learning something new while I'm immersed in a story plot. These three things were new discoveries made while reading Murder on Bank Street, the latest title in Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mystery series.

The gripping tension and fast pace of the story, set in New York City in 1893, kept me flipping pages well past midnight. Sarah Brandt, the main character, is the widow of Dr. Tom Brandt. She is a midwife who serves the needs of the less fortunate. Along the way, she has often collaborated with Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy to ensure that justice is served. Romance enters the story almost immediately, when Frank visits the home where Sarah lives with her unofficially adopted daughter Catherine, and sixteen-year-old Maeve, Catherine's nanny.

The purpose of Frank's visit is to update Sarah on his progress investigating Tom's unsolved murder, four years earlier. He is working under the auspices of Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, who is rumored to be on his way to a position in newly elected President McKinley's cabinet. Time is of the essence, because the new commissioner may consider further efforts to solve this cold case to be a waste of time.

The plot moves swiftly as Malloy investigates several suspects, all fathers of women who were treated by Tom Brandt. Sarah, and even teenage Maeve, become deeply involved in the sleuthing. As the story progresses, Frank worries that learning the truth of his discoveries could destroy Sarah and bring an end to their budding relationship. I was drawn into the world of gaslights, horse-drawn buggies, and turn of the century life in New York City as I flipped through the pages, afraid to read to the end, and afraid not to. Although I assumed it all came out right, at times that seemed impossible.

Although this is Thompson's tenth volume in this series, I had not read any of the previous ones. Fortunately, this was not a hindrance. With a deft pen, the author wove in fragments of back story to bring me quickly up to speed, allowing me to jump in late in the game without feeling that anything was missing. The story is long enough to satisfy and short enough to fit into a tight reading schedule.

After finishing this latest book, I'm eager to read earlier ones, assuming that they will be written with the same gripping intensity and insightful descriptions that this one has.

Before she began her mysteries, Victoria Thompson was the bestselling author of twenty historical romances, a career that gave her a great admiration for life in the nineenth century. Now she is writing the Gaslight Mystery Series, featuring midwife Sarah Brandt and police detective Frank Malloy, for Berkley Prime Crime. The Gaslight Series has been nominated for the Edgar award. Visit her website.

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