A Mystery of Old San Francisco #1
By Nancy Herriman
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
In this historical mystery series, a courageous nurse and a war-scarred police detective in 1860s San Francisco champion the down-trodden and fight for justice …
After serving as a nurse in the Crimea, British-born Celia Davies left her privileged family for an impulsive marriage to a handsome Irishman. Patrick brought her to San Francisco’s bustling shores but then disappeared and is now presumed dead. Determined to carry on, Celia partnered with her half-Chinese cousin Barbara and her opinionated housekeeper Addie to open a free medical clinic for women who have nowhere else to turn. But Celia’s carefully constructed peace crumbles when one of her Chinese patients is found brutally murdered…and Celia’s hotheaded brother-in-law stands accused of the crime.
A veteran of America’s civil war, detective Nicholas Greaves is intent on discovering the killer of the girl, whose ethnicity and gender render her as powerless in death as they did in life. Nicholas’s efforts are complicated by Celia, who has a knack for walking into dangerous situations that may lead to answers…or get them both killed. For as their inquiries take them from Chinatown’s squalid back alleys to the Barbary Coast’s violent shipping docks to the city’s gilded parlors, Celia and Nicholas begin to suspect that someone very close to them holds the key to a murderous conspiracy…(Goodreads)
No Comfort for the Lost is a finely crafted historical mystery set in the unsettled years following the Civil War in San Francisco. Full of period details and true events and locations, it will appeal to readers who enjoy a step back in the past and those interested in a smart mystery.
San Francisco in 1867 could be a hard place, especially for the Chinese immigrants seeking a better life for themselves. There is great unrest brewing, especially among the Irish, against the Chinese and those who associate with them. Celia, an English war nurse, has made a life for herself following the presumed loss of her husband healing the downtrodden and forgotten of her adopted city. When the body of a pregnant Chinese girl is found floating at the docks, Celia is afraid it is her friend Li Sha. Unfortunately, she is correct. Detective Nicholas Greaves has been assigned the case, however it is made clear by his superiors that he should not waste valuable time and effort on such a lowly victim. Compelled to find justice for Li Sha, Celia and Nick place themselves in increasingly dangerous situations in hopes of identifying the killer.
There are plenty of suspects, each with his or her viable motive. Every time I thought I had it figured out, I would then read something that would change my mind. I was surprised when the killer was revealed, and, to me, that is the sign of a well crafted whodunit. Celia is no shrinking violet, and her strength, independence, and compassion come shining through. Nick is also quite well developed, and I liked his genuineness and sense of right and wrong. The supporting characters, including the other policemen, high society, and shady characters provided realism and depth to the unfolding story. I particularly like urchin Owen’s willingness to sacrifice himself to gain Celia’s approval. I did not care much for Barbara; maybe it was simply her immaturity and insecurity showing. I hope she matures in further installments. Housekeeper Addie provided more than one chuckle.
Celia and Nick are attracted to each other, but this is far from a romance. It adds pleasant tension to their relationship, and I look forward to seeing where things lead, although I am sure whatever progresses will be fraught with challenges since we do not know definitively that Celia’s husband is deceased.
The plight of the Chinese immigrants and women in general was a fascinating backdrop to the story. I could not help but find parallels to modern struggles. If only society would learn from its mistakes. Ms. Herriman’s skillful depiction of San Francisco, from its glittering theaters and morning rooms to the fog covered docks and slums, made me feel like I was there in the midst of the action.
I greatly enjoyed No Comfort for the Lost. It might possibly go on the short list of my best books of the year. I highly recommend it to those who enjoy strong heroines and lushly detailed history.