SCARLET WOMEN by J.D. Christilian


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 The pseudonymous Christilian sets a murder investigation in 1871 Manhattan, then dresses it up with overwrought period detail- -and a pleasant enough cast of iconoclasts and eccentrics. When a prostitute in a green velvet ballgown is found with her throat cut, the police naturally question the upper-crust lawyer husband of the woman whose nametags were sewn into the dress. The problem that confronts Vance Walburton, however, is that his wife left him some months ago. Worried about why the dead prostitute is dressed in her finery--and what, heaven forbid, the neighbors might think--he hires Harp, a mysterious operative with deep connections in both the demimonde and the police department, to investigate. Harp, who sports a facial scar but who's appealing to women in that ``dark, rough-hewn way,'' traffics in the city's secrets, trading favors with mediums, madams, gangsters, and cops. Now, he quizzes a notably corrupt police captain, the owner of the warehouse where the body was found, and the gangsters who were robbing the warehouse at the time. He also questions suffragette his ex-lovers, on the hunch that the burgeoning women's movement is one arena in which a socialite and a prostitute might have met. Then he enlists the help of the object of his affections, a resourceful kept woman, whose love he must temporarily forgo thanks to an improbable dark secret. Finally, Harp tracks his quarry down in Brooklyn, where she's happily on the lam from her oppressive husband, using her personal fortune to found a home for former prostitutes. Neglecting to reveal her whereabouts to his client, he presses on in search of the killer--the same killer, it'll turn out, who's done in Moe the Fence, Harp's surrogate father. A too-heavy dose of spoon-fed social history weighs down this antic and pleasingly improbable postCivil War romp.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1996
ISBN: 1-55611-475-3
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Donald Fine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1995