This was a book I was really looking forward to. I loved The Alienist and this book was recommended for fans of that book so I was eager to check this one out. The Alienist was probably one of the more dark and twisted historical mysteries that I have ever read so putting that as a ‘recommended for fans of The Alienist’ was a pretty tall order.
This is also Stacie Murphy’s debut novel, so I wasn’t sure what to expect beyond something with occultist undertones that was a darker mystery. I was still coming off the Christmas/holiday reads hangover so something with a little more meat to the story was definitely in order.
The cover of this book is elegant and the premise sounded so promising. I was looking forward to seeing how this one unfolded and I was pleasantly surprised that it was a well written and engaging debut novel! If you love historical mysteries with a little more grit and some supernatural elements then this is an excellent option and one that you will want on your radar!
A historical mystery in the vein of The Alienist, in which a young woman in Gilded Age New York must use a special talent to unravel a deadly conspiracy.
Amelia Matthew has done the all-but-impossible, especially for an orphan in Gilded Age New York City. Along with her foster brother Jonas, she has parleyed her modest psychic talent into a safe and comfortable life. But safety and comfort vanish when a head injury leaves Amelia with a dramatically-expanded gift. After she publicly channels an angry spirit, she finds herself imprisoned in the notorious insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island. As Jonas searches for a way to free her, Amelia struggles to control her disturbing new abilities and survive a place where cruelty and despair threaten her sanity.
Andrew Cavanaugh is familiar with despair. In the wake of a devastating loss, he abandons a promising medical career—and his place in Philadelphia society—to devote himself to the study and treatment of mental disease. Miss Amelia Matthew is just another patient—until she channels a spirit in front of him and proves her gift is real.
When a distraught mother comes to Andrew searching for her missing daughter—a daughter she believes is being hidden at the asylum—he turns to Amelia. Together, they uncover evidence of a deadly conspiracy, and then it’s no longer just Amelia’s sanity and freedom at stake. Amelia must master her gift and use it to catch a killer—or risk becoming the next victim. (summary from Goodreads)
I can see why this book is recommended for The Alienist fans. It has a lot of the same grit and atmosphere that make that book such a classic. Not to mention all the mental illness factors and being set in the same time period and location as The Alienist. Though I think The Alienist is still in a class all its own when it comes to the darkness of it, but this book definitely captures some of that same atmosphere and morally ambiguous characters.
I wasn’t sure that I was going to love the ghost element of this story. The main character has ghosts posses her and she can see flashes of people’s future and their past. It sounded a little too fantastical and I wasn’t sure that it would really work in a story like this but I actually ended up loving it! The occult or supernatural elements in this story added to the atmosphere and were eerie enough to keep the reader on edge but not so much so that they were hokey or unbelievable.
I don’t know that I loved Amelia as the main character but I did love the feminist ideologies that she brought forward in this one. During that time, women were entirely under their husband’s thumb (of male relative) when it came to things like their own sanity or their fortunes etc. And I thought the author did an outstanding job highlighting those issues and how women were treated and then provided the readers with a heroine who challenged those issues. Amelia was believable in her role as champion of women, but not so over the top that she felt too modern if that makes sense. Her beliefs and struggles fit perfectly in that time period. But there was something about her that I just didn’t love and I can’t quite put my finger on what it was but I didn’t love her. I respected her character and felt that she was well drawn and developed but I just didn’t feel a connection to her in the way that I had hoped.
The other characters, Andrew and Jonas, who were the other main characters in this book, were also well developed but morally questionable at times. I liked both of them and thought they added depth to the story. Especially Andrew. He was progressive when it came to mental illness and women, but at the same time he didn’t seem overly radical so as to appear out of the time period. The author did such a great job with the characterization of each hero/heroine that I absolutely felt like I was in that time period.
Overall I enjoyed this novel and I think fans of grittier mysteries will enjoy this one for sure! I loved the mental illness and asylum parts so much and was roped in by all the history. You definitely want this one on your radar!
Book Info and Rating
Hardcover, 368 pages
January 5th 2021 by Pegasus Crime
ISBN1643136305 (ISBN13: 9781643136301)
Free review copy provided by publisher, Pegasus Crime, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: crime, historical fiction, mystery