Louisa and the Missing Heiress
Source: Review copy from the publisher.
Book Description from Back Cover:
Boston, 1854. Long before she achieves fame as the author of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott is writing stories of a more lurid nature, inspired by her fascination with the dark and mysterious. Although her famous philosopher father, Bronson Alcott, knows nothing of her lowbrow literary pursuits and would not approve, her mother, Abba, and three sisters appreciate her vitality, independence, and ambition.Theirs is a frugal but always welcoming household where enlightened beliefs vie with the practical necessity of earning a living. But no previous experience prepares Louisa for the role of amateur detective she assumes when the body of her dear friend, wealthy newlywed Dorothy Wortham, is found floating in Boston's harbor.
Dorothy was clearly distraught in the days following her return from her yearlong honeymoon abroad. It's well-known that her family didn't approve of her husband, a confirmed fortune hunter. But Louisa suspects that some deeper secret lies behind her friend's tragic murder--and she sets out to learn the shocking truth...
Louisa and the Missing Heiress is a historical mystery set in 1854 in Boston. The title is misleading since the heiress in question was never really missing, just late to tea parties and then killed. The story contained rich, but not overwhelming detail about everyday life at that time and the real Louisa May Alcott's life.
I found the Louisa character charming, and I enjoyed the underlying humor in how she viewed others and herself. The other characters were vivid but generally not very deep or distinct from each other.
The whodunit wasn't very difficult to figure out. I was sure who the murderer was very early in the story, and it only became more obvious. The author was able to extend the mystery by having Louisa have so many questions to ask that she didn't ask some obvious questions early on. However, she still hadn't asked these questions when, near then end of the story, Louisa knew she was missing something but couldn't think of any questions she'd neglected to ask. The character was smart, so this didn't strike me as realistic.
When Louisa did figure it out who the murderer was (along with some details that, indeed, I never would have guessed), she acted stupidly: she didn't tell anyone who the murderer was, sent her only backup away (to fetch the police), then went alone and without a weapon to confront someone whom she suspected was about to kill again. This didn't increase the suspense for me. During her confrontation with the murderer, the author didn't use the murderer's name in order to "surprise" us with it later. That just made me feel insulted and irritated.
So, while I found the first two-thirds of the novel charming and enjoyable, the author hit too many of my pet peeves in the last third for me to enjoy it. If the things I pointed out above don't annoy you, then you'll probably enjoy this novel. There were no sex scenes. There was a very minor amount of both explicit and "he cursed" style bad language.
If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.
Excerpt from Chapter One
"I suppose it is some strange new custom," complained Miss Alfreda Thorney. "Inviting guests and then not being there to greet them. I never."
Miss Thorney was the personage we referred to in private as the Medusa, for the thick, curling salt-and-pepper hair that snaked around her forehead and cheeks in a style of hairdressing that had been popular some thirty years before; and because her glance could turn men to stone. Or so I had imagined as a little girl, when the mere sight of her would compel me to run away in terror. Unfortunately, as an adult I found her only slightly less terrifying. There were, after all, those rumors of her instability, of a two-year period when she had been locked into a room with only the family doctor for a visitor.
"Mrs. Wortham is only back from a long voyage," I protested gently, braving the Medusa's stern glance. "I am confident that some pressing matter arose at the last minute, and that she will be home soon. Have another slice of seedcake, won't you?" I picked up the silver cake tray to pass it, but before I could, Mr. Wortham's man, Digby, stepped forward and took it. This sort of formality was not what I was accustomed to.
"I'll do that, miss," he said, and with great stateliness, as if he held the crown jewels, he silently moved around the little circle with it, his highly polished black boots giving off occasional glints of light.