Wednesday, 3 October 2012

A Lack of Temperance

Author: Anna Loan-Wilsey
Genre: Historical Mystery
Type: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) from NetGalley
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
First Line: "It was chaos."

SynopsisFrom author Anna Loan-Wilsey comes this first book in a new cozy mystery series featuring the amateur sleuth, Hattie Davish.  Hattie is a travelling typewriter (secretary) who is sent by her benefactor, Mr Arthur Windom-Greene, to various jobs around the country.

It's November 1892 and Hattie is on her way to Eureka Springs, Arkansas for a secretarial job with Mrs Edwina Trevelyan.  Mrs Trevelyan is the leader of the American Women's Temperance Coalition (AWTC), a group that is passionate about banning the sale of alcohol.   Eureka Springs is well-known resort town that is known for the healing powers of its various springs and is the location of the AWTC's meeting.  Hattie, while eager to begin her new job, is also excited about being able to explore the local area to indulge in her love of botany.

When Hattie first arrives at the luxurious Arcadia Hotel her first priority is to find her new employer and get to work.  Hattie searches the small town and is shocked to find the elderly Mrs Trevelyan in the middle of demolishing and setting fire to the Cavern Saloon in the name of temperance.  As Hattie makes her way back to the hotel after the melee she attempts to finally meet Mrs Trevelyan face-to-face in order to assume her new role.

Unfortunately Mrs Trevelyan is a hard woman to track down.  With the local police looking for her to discuss her involvement in the saloon brawl Mrs Trevelyan seems to have disappeared.  Hattie decides to use this time to jump into her new role and begins to handle Mrs Trevelyan's correspondence.

Shortly afterwards, Hattie finds the murdered body of her employer.  In her role as temperance leader Mrs Trevelyan has made many enemies both within the temperance group and from outside it.  The police quickly zone in on one person for the murder but after Hattie receives various cryptic written threats, Hattie is certain that the local police have the wrong person behind bars. 

Now that her employer is dead Hattie is told, in no uncertain terms by one of the AWTC followers, that her help is no longer needed Hattie is told to go home.  Since she was paid upfront by Mrs Trevelyan and has a very strong work ethic, Hattie is determined to complete her task and find her employer's killer. 

Although her determination to complete her task is admirable unfortunately Hattie has attracted the attention of her employer's killer and has now put her own life in danger.   Now, with the help of the handsome local doctor, Dr Walter Grice, Hattie vows to find the real killer herself.

My Thoughts:  I really enjoy historical mysteries when I can learn a bit about history while enjoying an entertaining 'who dunnit'.  Kind of a two for one deal, if you will.  A little knowledge wrapped up into a nice, cozy mystery.  Well, this book fits the bill. 

I'm a little embarrassed to say that I have pretty much no knowledge of the temperance movement in the late 1800's.  When I say 'pretty much' I mean zilch.  Nada.  Rien.  Luckily for me, Ms Loan-Wilsey is very adept at vividly painting a picture of this highly emotional era.  It was a time of zealous actions of some of the temperance members in the name of their cause as well as the raw emotions from the people who wanted these busybodies to stay out of their right to imbibe or not.  Kind of a perfect era to place a murder, right?

If an author is going to snag me with their mystery I have to like the main character.  I like a strong main character who is relatable.  Hattie, I'm happy to report, is an interesting and confident main character who is refreshingly ahead of her time.  She's an intelligent young woman who is very non-nonsense about her job and has a strong work ethic.  She gets offended when she's referred to as 'just a typewriter' because she views herself as so much more and goes on to prove this by solving the murder of her employer.

The secondary characters, especially the deliciously gossipy sisters Miss Lucy and Miss Lizzy who seem to take Hattie under their wings, round out a good cast of characters.  There is mild romance of sorts which has begun between Hattie and Dr Grice but it doesn't hinder the pace of the mystery.  I'm interested to see if he will be able to be part of future books.

I look forward to reading more books in this series.  I'm intrigued by the era as well as seeing what other situations Hattie will be put in since her profession can lead to so many different possibilities for future storylines.  I'm also curious about Hattie's mysterious benefactor, the elusive Arthur Windom-Greene, and look forward to learning more of how they met.

The negatives that I had about this book are quite mild. The pace, at times, was a little slow and the identity of the murderer wasn't a big shock for me but overall I quite enjoyed this first book of this new series.  Recommended.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Anna Loan-Wilsey and Kensington Publishing for providing me with this free Advanced Reading Copy in exchange for my honest review.

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