Historical novelist Black (The Second Glass of Absinthe, 2003, etc.) is awkward at dialogue but dandy at plotting. And three...

SÉANCE IN SEPIA

Real-life feminist Victoria Woodhull experiences the fictional consequences of free love.

On a quest for stock for her father’s used-book store, Flynn Kiernan comes upon a “spirit photograph” featuring the three participants in the scandalous Free Love Murders in 1875 Chicago, where Alec Ingersoll was tried for the murder of his wife Medora and her lover, his best friend Cam Langley. When Flynn puts the photo up for auction on eBay, one bidder, Matt Holtser, asks to license rights for a book he’s working on. He and Flynn become romantically involved while tracking the history of the photo. Their search leads them to old trial records and Ingersoll’s request of noted spiritualist and free-love advocate Victoria Woodhull to conduct a séance that will disclose who really killed Medora and Cam. Did the overwrought Medora commit suicide? Did Cam, in despair over his disloyalty to Ingersoll, kill Medora and then himself? The Woodhull, as she was known, nearly comes to the same fate as Medora as she explores the dead woman’s relationships with the men in her life, including a stint as a photographer’s assistant that led her to a little foray into blackmail. Although The Woodhull will be able to sort through the events that resulted in the murders, her belief in the free love professed by the Oneida Community will be so sorely tested that she’ll pack in her own marriage and head for England to live out her life.

Historical novelist Black (The Second Glass of Absinthe, 2003, etc.) is awkward at dialogue but dandy at plotting. And three cheers for Victoria Woodhull, whose place in the feminist pantheon is richly deserved.  

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4328-2548-5

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Five Star/Gale Cengage

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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An overly anodyne attempt at Southern gothic.

THE STOLEN MARRIAGE

A series of unfortunate errors consigns a Baltimore nurse to a loveless marriage in the South.

It’s 1943, and Tess, from Baltimore’s Little Italy, is eagerly anticipating her upcoming nuptials. Her frustration grows, though, when her physician fiance, Vincent, accepts an extended out-of-town assignment to treat polio patients. On an impromptu excursion to Washington, D.C., Tess has too many martinis, resulting in a one-night stand with a chance acquaintance, a furniture manufacturer from North Carolina named Henry. Back in Baltimore, Tess’ extreme Catholic guilt over her indiscretion is compounded by the discovery that she’s pregnant. Eschewing a back-street abortion, she seeks out Henry in hopes of arranging child support—but to her shock, he proposes marriage instead. Once married to Henry and ensconced in his family mansion in Hickory, North Carolina, Tess gets a frosty reception from Henry’s mother, Miss Ruth, and his sister, Lucy, not to mention the other ladies of Hickory, especially Violet, who thought she was Henry’s fiancee. Tess’ isolation worsens after Lucy dies in a freak car accident, and Tess, the driver, is blamed. Her only friends are the African-American servants of the household and an African-American medium who helps her make peace with a growing number of unquiet spirits, including her mother, who expired of shock over Tess’ predicament, and Lucy, not to mention the baby, who did not make it to full term. The marriage is passionless but benign. Although Henry tries to be domineering, he always relents, letting Tess take the nurses' licensing exam and, later, go to work in Hickory’s historic polio hospital. Strangely, despite the pregnancy’s end, he refuses to divorce Tess. There are hints throughout that Henry has secrets; Lucy herself intimates as much shortly before her death. Once the polio hospital story takes over, the accident is largely forgotten, leading readers to suspect that Lucy’s death was a convenient way of postponing crucial revelations about Henry. Things develop predictably until, suddenly and belatedly, the plot heats up in an unpredictable but also unconvincing way.

An overly anodyne attempt at Southern gothic.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-08727-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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An anodyne visit with Tricia and her friends and enemies hung on a thin mystery.

A KILLER EDITION

Too much free time leads a New Hampshire bookseller into yet another case of murder.

Now that Tricia Miles has Pixie Poe and Mr. Everett practically running her bookstore, Haven’t Got a Clue, she finds herself at loose ends. Her wealthy sister, Angelica, who in the guise of Nigela Ricita has invested heavily in making Stoneham a bookish tourist attraction, is entering the amateur competition for the Great Booktown Bake-Off. So Tricia, who’s recently taken up baking as a hobby, decides to join her and spends a lot of time looking for the perfect cupcake recipe. A visit to another bookstore leaves Tricia witnessing a nasty argument between owner Joyce Widman and next-door neighbor Vera Olson over the trimming of tree branches that hang over Joyce’s yard—also overheard by new town police officer Cindy Pearson. After Tricia accepts Joyce’s offer of some produce from her garden, they find Vera skewered by a pitchfork, and when Police Chief Grant Baker arrives, Joyce is his obvious suspect. Ever since Tricia moved to Stoneham, the homicide rate has skyrocketed (Poisoned Pages, 2018, etc.), and her history with Baker is fraught. She’s also become suspicious about the activities at Pets-A-Plenty, the animal shelter where Vera was a dedicated volunteer. Tricia’s offered her expertise to the board, but president Toby Kingston has been less than welcoming. With nothing but baking on her calendar, Tricia has plenty of time to investigate both the murder and her vague suspicions about the shelter. Plenty of small-town friendships and rivalries emerge in her quest for the truth.

An anodyne visit with Tricia and her friends and enemies hung on a thin mystery.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0272-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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