Friday, June 14, 2013

Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke

Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery
(I purchased this book.)

Back of the Book Blurb:
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 his death was 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.

Published in December 2009, this is a wonderful blend of mystery, with a touch of romance, set against a period backdrop of 1879 San Francisco.  I was completely absorbed from the beginning, as the reader sees Annie in her dual roles as a boarding-house owner and in her role as Madam Sibyl (love the appropriate name).  It's fascinating that the word "respectable" needs to be placed in front of the phrase "boarding-house", as they were frequently fronts for a much older profession.  Annie is young, extremely smart, capable, and just barely hanging on to her status and her inherited boarding-house through the profits earned by Madam Sibyl.  Annie had been left destitute when her husband killed himself, after spending the considerable fortune Annie had brought to the marriage through her dowry.  Unable to overtly use her considerable financial and business skills to support herself due to societal constraints, Annie is forced to rely on the charity of her in-laws, and is shunted from one to another until she inherits the house.

When one of her favorite clients and friends dies unexpectedly, Annie believes it to be murder, and has to convince the family lawyer Nate Dawson, who happens to be young, handsome, hunky and open-minded.  His affection for Annie and his tolerance for her escapades is sorely tested, however, as Annie's investigation puts her in all kinds of dangerous situations.

 Annie and Nate feel like real people, and I found myself alternately cheering for Annie and scared to death for her, as she poses as a maid and hunts for clues to the murder.  The setting and situation are so clearly described, I could feel the societal constraints holding Annie back at every turn, always requiring that she dress, speak, and behave a certain way, whether as a respectable widow or as the maid she pretends to be for part of the book.  I was frustrated for her, even as she found methods to work within and around these class rules.
Fascinating story, with a well-crafted mystery, realistic characters, and a lovely romance - highly recommended!

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Check out the author's website for more information.

Meet the Author

M. Louisa Locke is a retired professor of U.S. and Women’s History, who has embarked on a second career as an historical fiction writer. The first two published books in her series of historical mysteries set in Victorian San Francisco, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits feature Annie Fuller, a boardinghouse owner and clairvoyant, and Nate Dawson, a San Francisco lawyer, who together investigate murders and other crimes, while her short stories, Dandy Detects and The Miss Moffets Mend a Marriage, give secondary characters from this series a chance to get involved in their own minor mysteries.

Locke's fiction garnered awards from the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and the IndieBRAG and have been consistent best   sellers in the historical mystery category. Locke is also the president of the Board of Directors of the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative.

Currently living in San Diego, Dr. Locke is working on Bloody Lessons, the next full-length installment of her Annie Fuller/Nate Dawson series. For more about M. Louisa Locke and her work, see 
The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage: A Victorian San Francisco Story      Dandy Detects: A Victorian San Francisco Story

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