This is a great series, particularly if you like the flavor of old London mysteries in an American setting. In 18th-century New York, midwife Sarah Brandt has often found her midwife cases tangled up in murder. Her partner in crime-solving is Police Detective Frank Malloy. The series has been in existence for some 13 years now. I would highly recommend that new readers to the series take the time to start at the beginning, for the backstory is as interesting at the current one. (First book is Murder on Astor Place.)
Being called out on a birth is business as usual for Sarah, but this time—although appearances are indeed deceiving—her client is a pregnant prostitute. The row of houses called Sisters’ Row looks civilized and “decent” on the outside; on the inside, the only business practiced is that of sex for sale. Not truly shocked, for Sarah is fully aware of the depravity and lewd behaviors of New York City, she nonetheless takes the new mother at her word. The girl insists she is there against her will, and in need of rescue. She gives Sarah the name of a woman who fights prostitution by rescuing such girls when possible, providing them with a home until they can find decent employment and housing. But what seems to be a simple situation with a simple solution blows up in Sarah’s face and brings the police into the case.
The overall plotting is beginning to seem a bit repetitive, and I would have really liked to see some serious relationship developing between Sarah and Frank. Even given the time period, both of them are widowed, and a relationship either needs to grow or be done with for the reading audience to want to continue. I would also love to have more growth happening in the lives of the two girls in Sarah’s care. They have had hard lives, and are so lucky to have the loving, intelligent care of a woman who knows herself. I’d like to see more education and personal development with these two.
Despite those issues, the book stands strong. The writing is as elegant as always, and it warms the heart to see a strong woman coming unto her own in a time of police corruption, male dominance and governmental abuse. We believe that times are hard now, for many of us, as our American government struggles with vital issues affecting jobs and financial security. Yet the story here shows us what progress has been made.
The clothing of the times, the transportation, the evolution of the male-female relationship, the corporate development of charitable undertakings and the need to help those less fortunate all provide an undercurrent to the intrepid murder mystery that is the main plot. Sarah discovers clues and seeks them out, much to the dismay of Frank Malloy, who finds her interfering both alarming and irritating. Yet it is Sarah’s very personality and medical skills that make her such a valuable ally, so that as the case begins to make sense, Malloy has to take her wisdom and clues into consideration.
The next book is due out in May—Murder on Fifth Avenue—so quick, get this (and the others if you haven’t read them) under your belt, so you are ready for the next great summer read.