City of Shadows

Counterfeit Lady, Book #5

By Victoria Thompson


Author Website: victoriathompson(.)com

Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele


Elizabeth Miles Bates has returned from her honeymoon cruise and is taking great pride in having completely forsaken her past life as a con artist. Then her friend, Anna Vanderslice, begs her to use her talents to help save her widowed mother from a disreputable medium. Since the war and the flu epidemic left so many families bereaved, interest in contacting the dead has experienced a revival. Once quite popular, séances have come back into vogue as desperate families mourn their loved ones and long to communicate with them.

Anna’s mother has been attending séances in an attempt to contact her son, David, who died of influenza. Anna had thought it a harmless activity, though a heartbreaking one, but she has just learned that Mrs. Vanderslice is paying the medium ever-increasing sums of money in her eagerness to make contact with her deceased son. Since David’s death has caused Anna and her mother financial hardship already, Mrs. Vanderslice’s obsession is in danger of ruining them.

Madame Ophelia is part of a group of con artists working together to fleece as many New Yorkers as possible before moving onto another city. Several of Mrs. Vanderslice’s friends as well as some of Gideon’s clients have already been victimized. Elizabeth knows that simply exposing the medium as a fraud will not be enough, and the only way to get at least some of the stolen money back is to con the medium and her cohorts. But will Elizabeth’s family help her when it means betraying other con artists? And who can they trust? No one, as it happens, so Elizabeth turns to her aunt, Cybil, and Cybil’s partner, Zelda, for help. Although Cybil disapproves of her family’s shady profession, she is more than happy to lend a hand. Can Elizabeth and her gang of amateurs fool the professionals? (Goodreads)


In this delightful historical set in New York City 1919, City of Shadows finds former con artist Elizabeth back in the game trying to help her friend Anna expose medium Madame Ophelia’s and save her clients from financial ruin. 

In the wake of so much loss from World War I and the devastating flu epidemic, séances have come back in vogue as people attempt to communicate with deceased family and friends.  Newlywed Elizabeth has sworn off her former con artist life, but when her best friend Anna comes to her for help, how can she say no?  Anna’s mother is spending increasing amounts of money in hopes of hearing from her son David through medium Madame Ophelia. In addition to the emotional toll it is taking, Anna and her mother do not have the money to spare.  Elizabeth suddenly develops the gift of spiritual communication in an effort to get close to Madame Ophelia.  With the help of her friends, brother, aunt, and even her straight laced estate attorney husband Gideon, Elizabeth does her best to con a con.

City of Shadows is my favorite Counterfeit Lady book to date.  There is something so amusing about the protagonist Elizabeth’s goal of one-upping someone who is taking advantage of others.  Author Victoria Thompson succeeds at weaving a complicated, yet easy to follow, deception that reminds me a bit of movies like Ocean’s Eleven.  Elizabeth has a wonderful heart, is smart as a whip, and is an excellent con artist despite her best efforts to keep away.  Since her father and brother are in the business, she has learned many tricks of the trade.  With the cooperation of Gideon, Jake, Aunt Cybil, and other connections, she lays out a plan to convince Madame Ophelia that Elizabeth is the real deal, and every one of her predictions comes to fruition.  It all is so charming and entertaining; I was engaged in the story from the first page to the last.  

As fun as the plot is, it is the characters’ relationships that are so compelling.  I particularly enjoy Elizabeth’s relationship with her mother-in-law.  So often MILs are portrayed as evil ogres, but here Mother Bates and Elizabeth are great friends and co-conspirators.  Elizabeth and her brother Jake’s exchanges offer diverting sibling banter.  I love that law abiding, exceedingly honest Gideon not only supports Elizabeth in her endeavors but gamely has his own important part to play.

City of Shadows is quite enjoyable.  Highly recommended to mystery readers looking for a change of pace (no murder) and any historical fiction fan.