1881 San Francisco provides the setting for a series of brutal murders.
Sarah Woolson is that rara avis, an attorney with her own practice in an era when woman of her class aspire only to a good marriage. With Robert Campbell, a lawyer friend, she attends a séance at Cliff House at the behest of her brother, who hides his job as a reporter from his family. The medium Madame Karpova, her daughter and her brother Dimitry are joined by several local worthies, including a state senator and a police lieutenant. Everyone who decries the dramatic entrance of Darien Moss, a scandal-mongering reporter, becomes a suspect when he’s garroted at the séance. When the police arrest Karpova’s uncouth brother, she begs Sarah to represent him. Sarah takes the case along with that of a battered wife who wants a divorce and custody of her children. But even Robert thinks Dimitry is guilty. As the attorney for the brutal husband, he refuses to listen to Sarah’s doubts about both cases. Soon another séance attendee is murdered, the incarcerated Dimitry is stabbed, Madame Karpova is arrested and Sarah’s stuffy senator brother is charged with accepting bribes. Sarah must fight the ingrained prejudice against women as capable thinkers in order to prove her theories, find a killer and unravel a complex scheme.
Tallman’s intelligent heroine (The Russian Hill Murders, 2005) is a delight.