It's 1859, and Glynis Tryon, librarian of Seneca Falls, New York, is going home after a year's absence helping to care for her dying sister. Glynis's shy, sad niece Emma accompanies her on the long train journey from Illinois. With Rochester behind them and only one stop before journey's end, passengers are stunned by a savage knife attack on a passenger who drops a leather pouch into Glynis's lap before disappearing, his body to be taken off the train at Seneca Falls by Constable Cullen Stuart, Glynis's old love and ally in past investigations (Blackwater Spirits, 1995, etc.). The pouch holds a double eagle coin, a ring, and a banknote, plunging Glynis and Stuart into the fierce ongoing battle between Treasury agents and the rampant counterfeiting of the era. Glynis's on-again, off-again fondness for Stuart is cooled by his reported closeness to Fleur Coddington, owner of the town's priciest dress shop, who promptly hires Emma, a gifted seamstress, after her shopgirl Sally Lunt is found murdered—just one of the string of killings chalked up here. There's more—much, much more. Chapters are devoted to the abolitionist John Brown and his raid on Harpers Ferry, and to the battle for women's rights—these laced with mini- lectures on coinage, the strictures of women's dress, Emma's legal tangle with the Singer sewing machine company, and a host of other trivial pursuits that further weigh down a novel that manages to be both tumultuous and ponderous, with characters and plots enough for a lengthy series. In the end, a trial of patience for the often intrigued but finally overwhelmed reader, who may fervently hope that less will be more in this talented writer's future outings.
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