A Mystery of Old San Francisco
By Nancy Herriman
Trade paperback, 374 pages
Nancy Herriman’s historical mystery focuses on old San Francisco in 1867. It creates a realistic portrayal of life for the Chinese immigrants, who sought opportunity and came head-to-head with racial tension, were offered low wages, and young women were forced into prostitution. The residents of the community saw these people as a threat to their employment.
As a beacon of hope, Celia Davies attempts to offer her medical services to the poor and socially imprisoned, many are the young Chinese women the wealthy Americans have refused to help, but are visiting in the night.
After attending to a Chinese prostitute who dies from a wound that was not treated soon enough, Celia and Detective Nick Greaves learn about another unfortunate turn of events. The body of a young, pregnant Chinese woman is found in the bay. While the wealthy and the Chief of Police wish to bury her and be done with it, Celia and Detective Greaves believe its murder and it deserves to be investigated. Both focus their attention on learning the truth, with little or no support from the authorities. Few wish to be involved for reasons of society’s perspective on ethnic origin. But Celia, her cousin and housekeeper aren’t about to back away from the battle for human rights and they go against some nasty gangs to prove it. Then another woman goes missing. This one isn’t Chinese and has a fairly good standing in society. Precious time passes before the police even realize something has occurred. Could the woman have simply run off with a man or tried to stop something that would tarnish her reputation or someone she loved? Lots of possible suspects and twists and turns.
This was a informative, entertaining, wonderfully written book on several levels. For one, the protagonist has courage beyond her years. Maybe that’s a one-way street when dealing with an aggressive society, but if men and women of any decade neglect to fight for the rights of others, the injustice will spread like a disease. I liked the fact that Celia is a nurse, working with people who desperately need care and she does it without the backing of a hospital. She uses what little money she has. I liked that the author brought us through the history that has recorded or not recorded and then conveniently forgotten in the folds of time. This was the darn right dirty side of San Francisco. Just like New York and Chicago had their dark pasts. I loved the characters, the setting and seeing how life was back then. I wanted to bring home one homeless young man and provide him with a decent life. I also respected Nick Greaves for going with intuition even if it put him under the gun at work.
Four and a half nurse’s bags out of five
September 20, 2015