The Conjurer-Cordelia Frances Biddle
When Lemuel Beale is missing, his newly orphaned daughter, Martha, works with the detective in charge of investigating his disappearance in 1842 Philadelphia.
To be honest, I did not expect much from this novel. I wanted something light, unassuming, and forgettable. The cover (so blue?) and blurb along with the author's name which sounds like a romantic pen name (no way that's her real name, I said to myself) all made me judge the book before actually reading it.
I was wrong. I showed myself up for the judgmental elitist I am. And that's her real name-she's actually a member of the Philadelphia Biddle family.
Okay I admit it. Martha took awhile to turn into the kind of character I'd keep reading about (strangely fragmented as a person) but somehow I didn't think Martha was actually Biddle's focus so much as a way to discuss the position of women. Instead, what we get is a fascinating portrait of a Philadelphia in the 1800s. The challenges of being a woman (Martha is an old maid at 26...), the strange character of the city, the society of the day were all done wonderfully. I felt pulled into this story, into this place, and with every twist of the mystery I wanted, nay, demanded more. This is plot driven with such a well-done mystery that I could not guess at. And it's such a strange mystery and the way that Biddle writes 1842 Philadelphia, it could not have occurred anywhere else (or anytime else) which is kind of my favorite type of mystery. Having spent some time in Philadelphia and visited the Eastern State Penitentiary I was perhaps also fascinated out of a personal connection with the city but I also think that it's written well enough to appeal to those who've never been to Fairmount.
Really, the sense of place, I cannot stress it enough, is just astonishing and shows that Biddle is a historian as well as novelist (and Main Line heiress).
I'm sold. I shall be following this series!