A well-born woman is forced to reinvent herself as a private detective in 1893 New York City.
Pamela Thompson’s business-obsessed spouse lost all their money in a crooked scheme hatched by Henry Jennings, the Copper King. Her husband’s suicide leaves Pamela with nothing but a boardinghouse in a bad neighborhood of New York City, where she and her ward, Brenda, a young woman whose abusive father has just been released from prison, eke out an existence. Her life changes when well-connected lawyer, detective and Civil War hero Jeremiah Prescott offers her a job as a store detective in Macy’s jewelry department. Her success there ironically leads her to a job at the Copper King’s home in the Berkshires, home to the palatial cottages of the wealthy, because the second Mrs. Jennings wants someone to keep an eye on the staff at her beloved Broadmore estate. Pamela and Brenda are happy to escape the city and Brenda’s father, who’s threatened them both. Pamela’s newly developed detective skills are put to the test when Henry Jennings is found murdered in his study. There’s no dearth of suspects, since his second wife and his own son, a homosexual his father despised, were both about to be cut out of his will. Although Jennings was a crook and philanderer who treated his staff badly, the local police fasten on a tramp as the most likely suspect. Pamela and Prescott, who has a cabin in the area, must use all their skills to solve the complicated case.
O’Brien’s debut offers a pleasingly detailed look at the age of the robber barons along with enough strongly characterized suspects to keep readers guessing.