Sarah Woolson is a female attorney in San Francisco. Her uniqueness lies in the fact that she is practicing (or trying to) during the 19th century in a society that maintains the belief that young women should have finding a husband and raising a family as their primary goal. Shirley Tallman’s Scandal on Rincon Hill describes Sarah’s unconventional approach to society and her active involvement with solving murders and championing the underdog. Several aspects of Victorian society are highlighted, including the radical ideas of Charles Darwin whose theories about natural selection cause an uproar with various theologians and their followers.
A brutal murder near the Woolson residence attracts both Sarah and her brother Samuel to the scene of the crime, he to gather information for his secret job as a newspaper crime reporter. A second vicious murder occurs in the same vicinity and seems related to the first because both victims attended the same dinner party, as did several older members of the Woolson family. Rising hysteria leads to the unjust incarceration of two newly immigrated Chinese and Sarah feels compelled to flout convention by consulting with her previous contact Li Ying, leader of one of the most notorious tongs in the city, and offering her services as legal counsel. She decides her best defense will be to solve the murders and avoid a lynching. Sarah also feels compelled to become involved when the beautiful young scorned mistress of a prominent newspaper owner attempts to attain justice for herself and her newborn child.
This novel offers fascinating glimpses of San Francisco during the 1890s featuring Chinatown’s beginnings, widespread discrimination against women and foreigners and the struggles two intelligent siblings face while refusing to be typecast in their roles during these times. Somewhat reminiscent of the Francesca Cahill mysteries with another intrepid heroine who is willing to defy convention despite her conventional family. Sarah also has two successful suitors who loathe each other but are fascinated by her individuality and independence even as they seek to shackle her into a conventional relationship. An enjoyable period mystery leavened with plenty of historical tidbits.
A body is found just blocks from attorney Sarah Woolson’s peaceful Rincon Hill home. Sarah is soon on the case, but 19th-century San Francisco is rapidly thrown into a state of panic as a gruesome crime spree begins to take hold of the city. Engaged in a life or death struggle to find the murderer, Sarah becomes embroiled in the erotic escapades of the town’s infamous high-end brothels, a proper Anglican church, Darwin’s shocking theory of evolution, and a vicious killer who will stop at nothing to achieve a scandalous objective.