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 behaviour.
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.
The author is currently living in San Diego with her husband and assorted animals, where she is working on Uneasy Spirits, the next instalment of her series of historical mysteries set in Victorian San Francisco. Go to www.mlouisalocke.com to find out more about M. Louisa Locke and her work.
Maids of Misfortune is competently written and clicks along at a pretty good pace, once you get over the frequent blocks of exposition which stand in your way. There are a few clichés to interrupt the flow, which could easily be remedied; and a couple of places where a more modern idiom intrudes on an otherwise Victorian world.
It's a light, bright read which can't be taken too seriously: and in the end it was this frothiness which let the book down for me. I couldn't quite believe in any of its rather flimsy characters; the situations which they found themselves in were just a little too sanitised and lacking in depth to fully catch my attention; and despite the author's evident skill I found her main character almost scarily cheerful, and longed for her to reveal a darker side.
Despite my reservations, though, I read ninety-three pages out of three hundred and twenty-nine, and might well dip back into this book. It is well above the average of the books that I read for this blog, and consequently I'm happy to cautiously recommend it to you.