Luring women with the false promise of a safe, albeit illegal, abortion, a serial killer is on the loose in 1880s New York City.
In this sequel to The Gilded Hour (2015), Donati returns to a time when female doctors were viewed with surprise if not outright hostility. Cousins Anna and Sophie Savard have earned their professional medical training, both turning to practice primarily on women. Grieving the recent death of her attorney husband, Cap, from tuberculosis, Sophie plans to use her inheritance to establish scholarships and a welcoming home for women pursuing medical studies. Happily married to Jack Mezzanotte, a detective investigating the killings with his partner, Oscar Maroney, Anna is a highly accomplished surgeon, but they have just lost custody of the children they were fostering, children the church wants raised by Catholics. The sprawling Savard family blends multiple ethnicities, including Italian, Mohawk, and African American, and Donati crafts strong female characters who draw upon the wisdom of their ancestors to transcend the slings and arrows of petty racism and sexism. She juxtaposes these women, thriving on the energies of the zeitgeist advancing women’s rights, with the villains, who sink into the muck of dubious morality crusades, such as the anti-contraception and anti-abortion campaigns of Anthony Comstock and the xenophobic orphanage system run by the Roman Catholic Church. Through Sophie’s and Anna’s work, Donati sketches in the historical backdrop of reproductive challenges in late-19th-century America: Women dying in childbirth, women dying to avoid childbirth, women and babies mangled by medical quacks, and children drugged to the point of death just to keep peace in the nursery. The wounds inflicted by the serial killer caused prolonged, severely painful deaths, suggesting not inept but malicious intent. And as the Drs. Savard assist Jack and Oscar in their investigation, another woman goes missing.
Detectives, doctors, and dastardly scoundrels abound in this fascinating historical novel.