4 star

No Pity for the Dead

A Mystery of Old San Francisco, Book #2

By Nancy Herriman


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No Pity for the DeadBrought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele


British-born nurse Celia Davies runs a free medical clinic to assist the poor women of San Francisco. Aided in her endeavors by her half-Chinese cousin Barbara and feisty housekeeper Addie, Celia has earned the trust and friendship of many of the city’s downtrodden, including a young orphan named Owen—who’s just confided to her that he’s stumbled upon a corpse.

Owen recently started working for the ruthless real estate and development group, Martin and Company, and discovered a dead body in the office’s basement. Celia turns to Detective Nick Greaves for help, only to learn that one of the main suspects—the husband of Celia’s dearest friend—is an old enemy of Nick’s.

Now, Celia and Nick must put aside their personal feelings about the case—and each other—if they’re going to bring a killer to justice… (Goodreads)



No Pity for the Dead is the fantastic follow up to the equally well written No Comfort for the Lost by Nancy Herriman, rich with period detail, multifaceted characters, and a compelling murder mystery.

Independent minded Crimean War nurse Celia Davies has her hands full with her free clinic patients and as acting guardian to her sixteen year old half Chinese cousin Barbara.  There continues to be racial unrest against the Chinese in San Francisco, and Celia has lost some of her clinic support after investigating the death of a young Chinese woman (see No Comfort for the Lost).  Barbara is having a hard time dealing with the discrimination, but at least she has one good friend in Grace Hutchinson.  Grace’s step-mother Jane is one of Celia’s dearest friends and most ardent backers.  When scrappy fourteen year old Owen finds a body in a shallow grave in the basement of real estate developers Martin and Company, where Jane’s husband Frank is a partner, Celia cannot help but want to get to the bottom of things.  Virgil Nash, the victim, was not the most liked man about town, and there are plenty of people who are not sad to see him gone.  Detective Nick Greaves is on the case, and, though he is usually an impartial investigator, he cannot help but see Frank Hutchinson as a prime suspect.  The two have a shared past and are now enemies.  It seems that Celia and Nick are on opposite sides at first, but both do all that they can to see the right person brought to justice.

No Pity for the Dead is a first rate historical mystery.  Herriman has penned a story that transports the reader to post Civil War San Francisco.  There is great wealth courtesy of the gold rush and other mining, but there is also much strife between ethnicity and economic classes.  The town is experiencing great expansion, and these growing pains only add to the tensions.  Virgil Nash’s money appears to be the root of all of his problems, whether it be dubious business dealings or others’ jealousy of his wealth.  There is no shortage of suspects in his death, each with his or her own motives.  The mystery is carefully plotted, and clues are revealed in a logical progression.  I second guessed the killer’s identity with each new revelation.  Nick’s connection to suspect Frank make the mystery even more compelling.

Herriman’s characters are complex and imperfect.  Celia is a product of her time as a war nurse and her ill advised marriage.  Her husband is missing and presumed dead, but she will not move on until she knows for sure.  She is attracted to Nick but does not trust her own heart and is afraid a relationship with him would end up as unsuccessful as her marriage.  She is genteel on the surface, yet plucky (stubborn) and opinionated.  She does have a tendency to think she knows best and charge into situations without regard for her safety.  Though she expresses the reserve of her native British people, I firmly believe there is much passion beneath the surface.  Celia’s cousin Barbara continues to be my least favorite character.  Chock it up to her young age or her circumstances, I find her whiny and immature.  I adore Nick.  He is a man changed by his experiences in the Civil War, haunted by his best friend’s death, his younger sister’s suicide, and his estrangement from his father.  He is a smart, unbiased investigator, and he shows much more patience than I would with Celia’s interference.  I look forward to seeing where Herriman takes their relationship, be it romantic or platonic.

The Mysteries of Old San Francisco series is firmly placed on my “must read” list.  Highly recommended.