In this mystery sequel, women in 1886 San Francisco investigate murders of husbands by their hypnotized wives.
In Musgrave’s (Chinawoman’s Chance, 2018, etc.) first installment of his series, he tells the story of a fictional 1884 murder case involving several historical San Franciscans, including Clara Shortridge Foltz, California’s first female lawyer, and Ah Toy, a famous and wealthy Chinatown madam. In this volume, set two years later, Clara, 37, has been living with her brood of children at a Nob Hill mansion with her best friend, Ah Toy, 58, now an affluent art dealer. At a Rosicrucian gathering, Clara meets Adeline Quantrill, a distressed young woman who can hear thoughts from the living and the dead. She’s a disciple of Rosicrucian Dr. Paschal Beverly Randolph, another historical figure, who wrote a banned book on sexual magic. A servant in a prosperous household, Adeline was called as a witness in the trial of Rachel Wilson-Rafferty for killing her abusive husband; the defense hoped her testimony would establish that the wife’s doctor mesmerized her into doing it. The Nob Hill crew investigates further: questioning witnesses (sometimes through Adeline’s clairvoyance), drawing on Ah Toy’s uncle Little Pete (a Chinatown criminal), and learning more about Randolph. Additional cases arise of rich, abusive husbands seemingly murdered by their wives, and clues increasingly point toward wealthy widow Sarah Winchester’s mysterious mansion and a flamboyant spiritualist residing there. Can his nefarious plot be stopped? In this second outing, Musgrave nicely orchestrates historical elements from this heady era, such as the Winchester house and Randolph’s ideas; they’re as strange and compelling as fictive paranormal abilities. The link between the occult and the suffrage movement is a captivating example of how politics makes strange bedfellows, since two of the few venues where women’s voices could be heard were churches and spiritualist meetings: “We support women’s rights under the guise of spiritual communication,” says Clara. The author wrangles his large cast fairly well, although so much unusual action packed into a short space can become hard to track. A few anachronisms interrupt the historical feel: “We must get this image out into the media,” for example.
An entertaining mix of fact, fiction, feminism, and the occult.