I’ve read a 1929s murder mystery by this author writing as Mary Miley and thoroughly enjoyed – see my review of Renting Silence. So when this first book in a new series caught my eyes, I was delighted to be able to get hold of it.
BLURB: It’s 1924, and Maddie Pastore has it made. A nice house, a loving husband with a steady job – even if it is connected to Chicago’s violent Torrio-Capone gang – and a baby on the way. But then Tommy is shot dead, and she learns her husband had a secret that turns her life upside down. Penniless and grieving, Maddie is only sure of two things: that she will survive for the sake of her baby, and that she’ll never turn to the mob for help.
So when she’s invited to assist a well-meaning but fraudulent medium, she seizes the chance. She’s not proud of her work investigating Madam Carlotta’s clients, but she’s proud of how well she does it. When Maddie unearths potential evidence of a dark crime, however, she faces a terrible dilemma: keep quiet and let a murderer go unpunished, or follow the trail and put herself and her baby in mortal danger . . .
REVIEW: Poor Maddie’s life disastrously falls apart at the start of this book. Bad enough to suddenly find herself suddenly widowed and pregnant – but when she then loses everything, she’s desperate. Fortunately, she’s blessed with a lovely nature that people warm to and while she doesn’t want to be a charity case, Maddie is on the receiving end of a lot of genuine kindness. Though once Baby Tommy is born, she needs to find a job so she can keep a roof over their heads and feed herself – and it’s a huge struggle. She is caught in the all-too familiar dilemma facing working women with children, especially as she is breastfeeding him.
No… this book isn’t all about that. But I’m glad to see one of the plot threads running throughout the story is Maddie’s constant worry about how she will keep Baby Tommy safely cared for while she holds down a job. It certainly means that once she has a measure of financial security while helping Madam Carlotta gain information about her clients, she can’t easily find another position. Even though she is uneasy about what she is doing at times.
I was aware that in the wake of the Great War and the terrible Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, there was a huge upsurge of interest in spiritualists on both sides of the Atlantic. Millions of grieving relatives struggled to come to terms with the loss of far too many young people well before their time and turned to spiritualists for comfort. So Madam Carlotta feels she is called upon by a higher power to help people. And there are occasions when she clearly has flashes of genuine insight that can’t be explained away. However they are infrequent and fleeting. Therefore Maddie finds out as much as she can about the clients who book in advance to attend a séance, so Madam Carlotta can drop these details in. And it is when she discovers one family who have been particularly afflicted with more than one death that it occurs to her that the latest tragedy may not have been natural.
In the meantime, we get a vivid insight into a vibrant Chicago where Prohibition is in full swing and speakeasys and illegal gin joints have sprung up on every street. This gives the major crime families a licence to print money, by getting involved in the production of illegal liquor and distributing it. Gang warfare is simmering just below the surface – and given that Tommy was driving for one of the major outfits, Maddie needs to tread very carefully if she is going to keep herself and her newborn son free of their pernicious influence.
The story rattles along full of incident and suffused with Maddie’s gutsy can-do attitude, which I found very endearing. While the murder mystery is enjoyable and well done, it isn’t the narrative engine that powers this story – that is Maddie’s struggle to regroup after two devastating blows take everything, other than her child, away from her. That’s fine by me – the pages more or less turned themselves as I was fascinated to discover what happens next. And I’m definitely going to be looking out for the next book in this enjoyable series. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, particularly 1920s America. While I obtained an arc of The Mystic’s Accomplice from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.