The description for this novel, the first in a historical mystery series, caught my attention on NetGalley and I’m glad I requested it. Though it’s not perfect, there’s a lot to like here and I have hopes that the series will get more interesting and nuanced as the books continue. Also, it’s set in 1880’s Chicago and involves the Pinkerton Agency and how fun is that.
Lilly Long is a young actress in the Pierced Rose Theater Troupe whose brief marriage to a con man ends with him stealing her savings and leaving her with an even greater mistrust for the male species. The only exception to that is her foster father, Pierce Wainwright, who, along with his wife, Rose, raised Lily after her mother was murdered. Pierce and Rose manage the acting company that Lilly is part of. The novel opens with Lilly trying and failing to recover her life savings and feeling both anger at her husband and at herself for being taken in so easily.
Lilly’s sense that her world privileges men over women and that many young women, like her, are being taken advantage of or worse, leads her to apply for a job with the Pinkerton’s, which is opening a field office in Chicago and looking for a female operative. Though Lilly is too young by a decade for the advertised position, she is confident that her acting ability will get her the job and she is not wrong (how she does this is one of the things that I enjoyed about the book).
The hiring of a woman at the Chicago office has created strife in the Pinkerton Agency. The father, Allan Pinkerton, in ill health but still in charge, thinks a woman could be an asset. However, his son, Robert, is vehemently opposed. His other son, William, isn’t sure what to think but following his father’s orders, he hires Lilly on a trial basis.
Lilly’s first case seems simple enough—travel to a town in Southern Illinois and determine what happened to the owners of a property after they left town years before. However, this is a mystery novel, and a simple case is never really simple. The property owners were a minister and his wife and not only did they leave town suddenly but they left with a lot of church funds. Lilly’s investigation stirs up some town secrets that many would like to keep hidden and trouble ensues.
The mystery is not earth shattering but it’s fun to see Lilly work to figure things out and she often plunges into dangerous situations without thinking things through, which seems pretty realistic for someone in their early 20’s. There’s also a mysterious but handsome man who seems to be following Lilly and you know this character is going to play an important role in Lilly’s future (but I appreciate that it didn’t happen in this book).
This was a good start to a series and I’ll definitely follow Lilly into her next adventure.
*I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest/unbiased review.