Tuesday, May 19, 2015

'Deception on Sable Hill' by Shelley Gray

"The World s Fair is nearing its end, but the danger in Chicago lingers."

It s mid-September of 1893, and Eloisa Carstairs is the reigning beauty of Gilded Age Chicago society. To outsiders she appears to have it all. But Eloisa is living with a dark secret. Several months ago, she endured a horrible assault at the hands of Douglass Sloane, heir to one of Chicago s wealthiest families. Fearing the loss of her reputation, Eloisa has confided in only one friend. That is, until she meets Detective Sean Ryan at a high-society ball.

Sean is on the outskirts of the wealthy Chicago lifestyle. Born into a poor Irish family, becoming a policeman was his best opportunity to ensure his future security. Despite society s restrictions, he is enamored with Eloisa Carstairs. Sean seethes inside at what he knows happened to her, and he will do anything to keep her safe even if he can never earn her affections.

Eloisa longs to feel normal again in the midst of the danger surrounding the Chicago World s Fair, but a killer is on the loose. In the last month, three debutants have been accosted in the city by an assailant wielding a stiletto. As the danger in the city increases, and as Eloisa and Sean s romance blossoms, they both realize they want to be seen as more than how the world views them. But will they catch the killer before all their hopes come tumbling down?"

The premise of this novel sounded intriguing. A criminal known as the Society Slasher is at large, committing crimes that sound like an inverse of Jack the Ripper. His victims tend to be elegant women who are the cream of Chicago society in the Gilded era.

Irish working class policeman, Sean Ryan, finds himself falling for Miss Eloisa Carstairs, who he's attempting to protect in the line of duty. His partner, Owen Howard, a man of noble birth, is having the opposite problem, as he's attracted to Sean's younger sister, Katie, who doesn't believe she'll ever be suitable for him. All the while, the Society Slasher keeps committing his gruesome deeds. I really wanted to get stuck into the story, but in several ways, it didn't meet my expectations. I'll try to explain why.

It's not the sort of interactive mystery in which readers get to have a go at trying to figure out the Slasher's identity, because we aren't given many clues. We are not introduced to a range of key suspects or society men. The main male characters are the two cops, who are, of course, above suspicion. It got to the point where I didn't care who the crook was, as he was obviously somebody who was not given much page space. And Sean and Owen, who were supposed to be on the case, seemed to spend more time pondering their romantic dilemmas than trying to put together a list of possibilities. Parts of the story seemed to drag a bit, as neither of them had any more clue than I did.

The romances were a combination of fast and slow to me. Fast in that both attractions seemed to be instantaneous and based on first impressions, and slow in that they were full of the sorts of deliberate misunderstandings that tend to crop up in these stories of unequal social yoking. Hero snaps at heroine, believing it's for her own good, and she goes off devastated, determined to forget that she ever gave him a thought, but we know that the misunderstandings will be ironed out in the end. 

Now, here's what redeemed the book a bit for me. The ways in which each social class tended to judge the other as inferior was handled very well. Eloisa's snobbish parents are stereotypical as we may expect (they even have a butler named Worthy), but the attitude of Sean's older sister, Maeve, toward Eloisa reveals a lot. When Eloisa volunteers to help at Maeve's charity house, Maeve is quick to sum her up as a shallow princess type with time on her hands who simply wants a reason to give herself a pat on the back. It really shows that even when people wanted to reach out to others, it was often impossible, as their motives were questioned. It makes me glad that we've come so far, and not the least that the police force is now a more respected profession, as it deserves to be.

So for me overall, it was thumbs down for the mystery, thumbs down for the romances, but thumbs up for the social commentary. Perhaps if I hadn't expected a mystery in the Agatha Christie sense of the word, I might have felt differently.

Thanks to Net Galley and Zondervan for my review copy

2.5 stars

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