Sunday 18 April 2021

Neo-Victorian Voices: Deception by Gaslight, Kate Belli (2020)

Kate Belli takes us back to 1880s New York in the first instalment of her Gilded Gotham mystery series. Reporter Genevieve Stewart, a jilted bride born into an eccentric family in Mrs Astor’s 400, is on the hunt for “Robin Hood”, a jewel thief targeting the rich, but burglary isn’t the only crime afoot. Genevieve joins forces with Daniel McCaffrey, a wealthy and handsome man with a shrouded past (and questionable taste in waistcoats), but can she trust him? And how many people will die before she uncovers the truth?

I very much enjoyed the New York setting of this well-paced mystery, from the lavish parties of the upper crust to the dirty allies of the Five Points neighbourhood. I also appreciated that the investigation moves forward without tedious interrogations and our “detectives” asking the same questions again and again (my issue with many procedurals).

Genevieve is a capable and likeable character. She’s in her mid-twenties, independent, and proactive. She also has two living parents, brothers, and supportive friendships—a rarity among protagonists! There are moments of damsel-in-distress drama, but Genevieve is largely able to save herself. The romance is well drawn and doesn’t overwhelm the story, which remains focused on unmasking the bad actors at work in the city’s ballrooms, backstreets and institutions. 

All in, this is a fun read. Don’t expect a gritty, realistic look at life in gilded age New York—this isn’t what this novel offers. But if you love whodunnits, lively plots, and great costume parties, consider adding Deception by Gaslight to your summer reading list.

Which twenty-first-century-published, nineteenth-century-set novel would you like me to read next as part of my Neo-Victorian Voices series? Let me know, here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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