More murder among the upper classes in turn-of-the-century New York.
When businessman Nehemiah Wooten is found in his office, his head smashed in, his widow doesn’t seem greatly upset by the death. But when she goes into labor, it’s a chance for Detective Frank Malloy to get his midwife friend Sarah Brandt into the house. Sarah makes herself invaluable to the household and manages to pick up information Malloy could never have uncovered. She learns that nobody knew Valora Wooten was pregnant, perhaps because the child is not her husband’s but that of his partner’s son. Wooten’s firm views on eugenics drove him from his wife’s bed after the birth of their deaf daughter Electra, who has been taught to lip read but has secretly been taking lessons in American Sign Language from a teacher from a rival school with whom she has fallen in love. Mrs. Wooten brazens it out, insisting the child is her husband’s. Electra is glad her father is dead since he stood in the way of her romance. And her brother Leander’s indifference is deepened only slightly when he’s murdered on a visit to the Bowery. Malloy is surprised to find a bitter rivalry between lip-reading and ASL, which his own deaf son is learning. Wooten was so widely disliked, however, that his views on the deaf provide just one more motive for murder.
Thompson (Murder on Waverly Place, 2009, etc.) illuminates a battle in the deaf community that continues even today.