Victorian Intrigue, Cont.

Author: M. Louisa Locke

Bloody Lessons CoverWelcome back to the world of San Francisco circa 1880.  Author M. Louisa Locke brings the 19th century city to life for a third time in Bloody Lessons, the latest installment of the Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series.  In this outing we’re drawn into the world of politics and public schools.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Mrs. Annie Fuller is once again our main protagonist – she is the owner of a boarding house and also works on the side as the fortune teller Miss Sibyl, giving financial advice to wealthy businessmen.  She isn’t the least bit clairvoyant, but there is no other real way for a woman to make use of her considerable financial knowledge and skills within a society dominated by men.  Plus, she needs the income.

Bloody Lessons brings Nate Dawson’s sister Laura to San Francisco and into Annie’s boarding house.  Nate is Annie’s handsome lawyer beau and Laura is a newly minted teacher with only a single unhappy term of teaching under her belt.  She hopes very much to put that experience behind her when she takes a job teaching the seventh grade, recommended by her best friend at a school close to Annie’s house.  She’s in for a lot of unpleasant surprises as her past, political unrest within the city and the public school system, and her friendship all collide in one large mystery.  Who is trying to ruin the reputations of teachers in town and who is stalking Laura?  Annie, of course, is on hand to lend assistance in the investigation, just happening to possess the perfect skill set to infiltrate one of the suspicious locales.

As always, author Locke does an exceptional job combining meticulously researched historical fiction with cozy mystery conventions.  Each chapter has a quote from the time period in question directly pertaining to the material covered in that chapter.  There was no shortage of school scandal, fortune telling or political tomfoolery in San Francisco in 1880 and Locke wraps her story into the headlines of the day.  The result is a feel of authenticity that’s missing from most cozy mysteries – though she still gives us our sympathetic cast of characters and continues their development.  As a result we feel like we are really getting to know these people as their personalities, histories and eccentricities are revealed by the challenges presented by the mystery.

I very much enjoyed Bloody Lessons, as I have enjoyed all the installments of the Victorian San Francisco Mysteries.  Annie is a complicated but thoroughly likable and sympathetic heroine who cares for those who live and work under her roof and struggles to overcome her troubled past.  Nate is a gentle hothead who loves Annie with his whole heart and is trying mightily to curb his tendency to push back against her independent streak.  Laura is new to us this time, but she’s a welcome addition to the boarding house crew.  Maid Kathleen and cook Beatrice as well as boarders Esther Stein and the Misses Moffitt as well as Barbara Hewitt and her son Jamie are all on hand to play supporting roles in both the daily life of Annie and the current mystery.

The only annoyance I have – and it’s really petty – is that the lack of contractions in the dialogue feels stilted to me sometimes.  I have no idea if this convention is period specific and accurate or if it’s just author preference, but I found myself noticing it on more than one occasion, bringing me out of the story a little bit.  That’s really more of a personal nitpick than a criticism – and certainly isn’t enough to take away from the overall enjoyment of the book.

In all, Bloody Lessons is a solid, enjoyable addition to the Victorian San Francisco Mysteries, recommended for anyone who likes cozies or very well researched American historical fiction. 4 ½ stars out of 5.  I look forward to the next book in the series!

— S. Millinocket

Sue Millinocket
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