Saturday, February 20, 2010
Scarlet Women, by J.D. Christilian
1870s New York City is the setting for this book. A prominent man comes to a discreet attorney's office to ask for help in finding out what's happened to his wife. It seems that she's disappeared, but shortly after she left, a prostitute was found with her throat cut in a warehouse wearing his wife's clothing. Enter the attorney's best investigator, Harp. He's paid a lot because he's the best -- but once he starts in on the case of the missing wife, he becomes more entrenched in the mystery of who killed the prostitute. But there are people out there who don't want this mystery solved, none the least of which are the police.
Christilian's novel is good for its depiction of late 19th-century New York, especially regarding the status of women and their mostly limited options. It also offers a look into New York's criminal element of the time, which was often mixed with political corruption, especially that of the Tammany machine. However, the mystery element is just so-so and starts to be very predictable early on.
Another thing: I picked this book because it was likened to Caleb Carr's wonderful book The Alienist, which if you have not read, you need to do so. The Alienist is set roughly in the same time period, in the same place, but is vastly different and heads above Scarlet Women in terms of writing, plot, characterization and historical reality.
If you are looking for a historical mystery set in New York, you might want to give it a try, but this one wouldn't be my first choice.