First in the Nell Sweeney / Gilded Age Series. Nell Sweeney is an assistant to Dr. Greaves, a man that has saved her from her past, when one evening they are called out to assist in a birth that will change Nell's life. Next thing she knows she is a Governess to this child and within 3 years is a trusted companion to the head of the house and is sent on an adventure to save the woman's son, who was thought to be dead, from a hanging for a murder that he is being charged with. From opium dens to high society this book looks at the life of the Hewitt family and their many secrets. This book is more character driven then actual murder mystery, but the characters are very engaging and Nell is a very independent thinking woman for the late 19th Century in which this book takes place.
What a cracking start to a series! This book is so very well researched -- plenty of period detail, fully-fleshed out characters with plausible, intriguing stories. Very well written. This book was a real page-turner, and I can't wait to read the others in the series. What a pleasure to find an intelligent mystery series!
I am always excited to find a new author to love, such is the case with P.B. Ryan.
The character driven story line with the streetwise Nell Sweeney who has come to the Cape Cod summer cottage of the wealthy Hewitt family with her employer Dr Greaves. A maid servant is giving birth and very likely might die if she doesn't have a risky c-section. With the child safely born and the mother's rejection of the child, Mrs. Hewitt who is still recovering from the loss of her eldest 2 sons at Andersonville the infamous Confederate prison camp, decides to adopt the maids child to assuage her grief. She also see something in Nell and asks Nell to come and care for the child as a nurse/governess.
So Nell leaves Dr. Greaves who has taught her all she knows but realizes that it is time for her to move on. At 25 and poor she has little to look forward to. At least this way she will have security, the opportunity to better herself, and the experience of loving and rearing a child. Grace is her sole focus for 3 years until the past come back to haunt the Hewitt family, and Mrs. Hewitt needs Nell to act in her stead to find out if what they think is true, is indeed true. Four stars.
When I began to read Still Life with Murder, I expected to find a pleasant little story set during a period of history in which I've always been interested. Did I ever underestimate this book! Ryan's setting is wonderfully evocative and made me feel as though I were walking the streets of Boston during the Civil War. I deduced the identity of the killer early on, but that in no way spoiled this book for me-- there's simply so much to savor that this small detail quickly became irrelevant.
What makes this book so special are its two main characters: Nell Sweeney and opium-smoking ex-battle surgeon William Hewitt. Both have their demons, and it is clear by book's end that there are secrets yet to be revealed.
Nell's past has been one of poverty, hardship, and a fight merely to survive. She has done so through sheer force of will, her intelligence, and her understanding of the darker side of human nature. She may be a governess in the 1860's, but she's no shrinking violet, and it's fun to watch her try to keep up appearances while taking care of business. As she tries to clear Will's name, it would appear that more men than women have delicate sensibilities that she must try her best not to offend. I haven't had a character get me this fired up in a long time.
Sympathy for William Hewitt is slower to form, as it probably would be for a man willfully addicted to opium, but Ryan works her magic on him, too. Family dynamics play an important role in his behavior, as do his experiences during the war. He's determined to go to hell in a handbasket reeking of the poppy, and the author makes us want to know why.
Nell and William are two fascinating, multi-faceted characters, and I cannot wait to read the next book in this series. Sometimes-- as in the case of Still Life with Murder-- it's wonderful to have your expectations blown to smithereens!
I loved this story. I have always liked the Civil war era and this story just made me remember how hard things were back then. Loved the characters, Nell and Will and will be reading the next book. Great, fun easy read!
Loved it! Not in the least because I come from the area in which the mystery takes place. Set in the time period of Boston's "gilded age," the descriptive prose is captivating.
Nell Sweeney is a nurse, a governess, and a detective all in one. Although her personal background is seriously questionable, her intelligence and dignity are not. She is hired by a Boston Brahmin family to become the governess/nanny to their adopted 4 year old daughter, Gracie. Two sons of the family supposedly died at Andersonville during the Civil War. But when the parents, the Hewlitts, discover that one is alive and living not far from them in Boston and that he has been accused by Boston police, of a savage murder, Nell soon becomes embroiled in the turmoil. The plot is intelligently written, the suspense builds well, and the end will be, for most, a surprise. Well worth five stars!
This author has a firm grasp on the nuances of the Boston-area after the Civil War.Â People who fought in the war may have come back a shadow of themselves but the wealthy Northerners generally managed to become more wealthy.Â Credo of the times:Â Money could solve all problems.
Nell Sweeney has become governess to a youngster, Gracie, whom the Hewitt family adopted at birth.Â Nell is an Irish Catholic immigrant who has spent more time than she cares to admit on the seamier side of life.Â All she wants is to remain part of the Hewitt household and take care of Gracie.Â Her stability is threatened when the Hewitts find out that one of the two sons they thought had died in the Civil War did not die at Andersonville.Â He's been found in Boston and is charged with murder.Â Because Mr. Hewitt wants to let Will hang, Mrs. Hewitt uses Nell to thwart his plan.
'Unique' is the word I would choose to describe this story. This story is character-driven and I couldn't put it down.Â Â I also have rushed out to find the next books in this series.Â
Gilded Age Mystery
**1. Still Life with Murder (2003)
2.Murder in a Mill Town (2004)
3.Death on Beacon Hill (2005)
4.Murder on Black Friday (2005)
5.Murder in the North End (2006)
6.A Bucket of Ashes (2007)Â