A child’s mysterious background puts her life in danger.
Widowed midwife Sarah Brandt, the maverick daughter of a wealthy society family, is fostering and wishing she could adopt Catherine, a young girl abandoned at a downtown Manhattan mission. When a woman claiming to be Catherine’s nursemaid arrives and says that Catherine’s mother wants her back, Sarah, horrified, asks for help from her old friend Detective Malloy, who’d like to be more than a friend but feels he has nothing to offer Sarah. The nursemaid is murdered before Malloy can talk to her, but with help from Sarah’s parents, the sleuthing duo manage to learn quite a bit about Catherine’s parentage. Her mother, chorus girl Emma Hardy, was the mistress of David Wilbanks, a wealthy man who offered to marry her for the child’s sake after his wife died. After refusing his offer for obscure reasons, Emma went on the road with her lover, an alcoholic actor. Now, the dying Wilbanks wants to put Catherine in his will. But his act of kindness may be the death of her, since his family recoils from the idea. Sarah and Malloy must answer some key questions to keep Catherine safe. Why is Emma trying to sell her daughter to Wilbanks when she could have married him? And are any members of the Wilbanks family desperate enough to kill Catherine?
Thompson’s latest tour of early-19th-century New York (Murder on Fifth Avenue, 2012, etc.) combines the requisite historical details with a surprise ending that bodes well for future entries in this enjoyable series.