Book Review: Deadly Proof by M. Louisa Locke

Annie Fuller, a part-time clairvoyant/landlady, is determined to improve her life. As the daughter of a financial investor, Annie knows a great deal about bookkeeping and investments. Putting her knowledge to good use with her fledgling accounting business, the pretty widow seems on-track again since moving to San Francisco, opening her home to boarders, and transitioning from her former job as the fortune-telling Madame Sibyl.

Having agreed to marry attorney Nate Dawson, she can almost touch the happiness she deserves after her disastrous first marriage, but when Nate is hired to defend a woman accused of murdering her boss, Annie turns private investigator in an attempt to help her fiancé with his first solo criminal case. At first, Nate’s biggest obstacle is the client herself, Florence Sullivan, who refuses to even speak to him for several days. Soon the issue becomes the sheer number of suspects who wanted Joshua Rashers, the ruthless owner of a printing company, dead. But as Annie and Nate’s sister Laura begin to dig deeper into the lives of Rasher’s family and employees, they will soon face deadly dangers of their own.

Strong personas form the nexus of this series, which features many of the same characters in both novels and novellas. Most of the characters have elaborate backstories that really “flesh out” the novel’s plot, but a familiarity with the previous stories isn’t a necessity for the reader. Readers will fall in love with Annie’s intelligence, Laura’s tenacity, Nate’s devotion, and Florence’s fortitude. Throw in the eclectic boarders and one feisty Boston Terrier, an unforgettable cast emerges that readers will adore.

Though the dynamics between characters is interesting, the real value of the novel lies within its portrayal of the struggle for women in the late nineteenth century. Set in the 1880s, the events of the novel aren’t far removed from the Civil War that ravaged the country, and while that war was fought for the equality of all men, subjugation of women would continue for another fifty years. And though the plot makes use of actual suffragette Emily Pitts Stevens, the novel covers much more than women’s suffrage. It explores all aspects of prejudice against women, including the rights of female workers and business owners as well as a woman’s place in the marriage relationship. From Annie’s financial independence to Laura’s dream to become a lawyer, the women fight for a place in a literal man’s world. Even Annie’s upcoming nuptials bring questions of propriety over personal enjoyment, and every woman in the novel–married or single–feels the bite of mental bondage in some way and none more than Florence who is being tried in the media based in part because of the sensationalism of her gender.

Deadly Proof: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery, Book 4 won First Place in the 2017 M&M Awards.

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