Locke, M. Louisa. Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francsico Mystery (2009). 336 Pages*. $2.99**
It’s the summer of 1879, and Annie Fuller, a young San Francisco widow, is in trouble. Annie’s husband squandered her fortune before committing suicide five years earlier, and one of his creditors is now threatening to take the boardinghouse she owns to pay off a debt.
Annie Fuller also has a secret. She supplements her income by giving domestic and business advice as Madam Sibyl, one of San Francisco’s most exclusive clairvoyants, and one of Madam Sibyl’s clients, Matthew Voss, has died. The police believe it is suicide brought upon by bankruptcy, but Annie believes Voss has been murdered and that his assets have been stolen.
Nate Dawson has a problem. As the Voss family lawyer, he would love to believe that Matthew Voss didn’t leave his grieving family destitute. But that would mean working with Annie Fuller, a woman who alternatively attracts and infuriates him as she shatters every notion he ever had of proper ladylike behavior.
Sparks fly as Anne and Nate pursue the truth about the murder of Matthew Voss in this light-hearted historical mystery set in the foggy gas-lit world of Victorian San Francisco.
Annie Fuller gasped, shocked at even allowing such an unladylike expression to enter her mind. She had been enjoying her tea and toast while sorting through her mail in splendid solitude.
I always have trouble reading about locations I know, especially when I haven’t done a ton of research to find out how well the author has dealt with it. If you’ve been following my blog at all, you may remember my thoughts about Sara Angelini’s The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy, and how badly she muddled San Francisco geography.
The good news is that Victorian San Francisco is sufficiently distinct from Modern San Francisco– especially when you consider that a large portion of the city burned in the 1906 quake– that small geographical errors are easy enough to forgive (not that I actually noticed any, thank goodness). She didn’t even make the mistake of referring to buildings which didn’t exist at the time– The San Francisco Cliff House actually existed in 1879, when she set her tale.
Ultimately, the story isn’t about San Francisco. It’s about Annie. She’s an interesting protagonist who is determined to find Matthew Voss’s killer– and the stocks he willed to her– no matter what it takes. If she fails, she could lose her boarding house, as well as all her other material possessions. Having already lost everything once– having sold nearly everything she owned to settle her husband’s debts after his death– she cannot bear the thought of losing everything again.
Things aren’t ever easy for Annie. She’s clever, educated, determined, and stubborn, and all of those work to help her, but that doesn’t make things significantly easier at any point. She’s also self-sufficient to the point of it being a flaw. However, all of these traits mean she’s unafraid of a little hard work, so when she sees an opportunity to infiltrate the Voss household, she takes it, despite the fact that a job as a maid represents far more work than she can handle.
The other part of the story is about Annie and Nate; the stubborn woman and the confused lawyer. Annie is determined to be involved in the investigation, whether or not Nate Dawson wants her to be. There’s a bit of inevitable romance, but things are complicated at best, and I was more interested in the mystery than the romance, which is not normal for me.
I found myself satisfied by the story, the developments of characters and relationships felt natural and well paced. I didn’t feel like anyone was terribly unbelievable, and I hadn’t solved the mystery within the first couple chapters, all of which bodes well for the title. There are seemingly more titles forthcoming by this author, and I’m likely to seek them out, as this one was very good. It earns a solid 4/5.
* Page count is based off the paperback edition. I’ve only read the digital.
** It is $2.99 for the kindle edition, and $11.48 for the paperback.
Have we ever covered why I feel so strongly about San Francisco? I don’t believe we have, in part because I am attempting to keep this blog about the books and not about me. Except that my family has been in California since the late 19th century, I believe. I know my great, great grandmother lost her birth certificate in the 1906 fire, and got to re-name herself which caused my mother a fair amount of consternation when it came time to trace our family tree. I know that my great grandmother lived in San Francisco her whole life. I care because my roots are here, and it is always a little satisfying to find an author who cares enough to not only set their book in San Francisco, but to do it well.
Want to get it? Well, I’m trying out amazon associates, so if you do choose to buy it, and you want to help me out, click here: Maids of Misfortune on Amazon.com.