Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

Boston, Post Civil War


Still Life With Murder

by P.B. Ryan

Two sons of the wealthy Hewitt family were thought to have died in the Civil War. But when one, William, turns up in Boston accused of murder and headed for the hangman’s noose, his mother sends her governess, Nell Sweeney, out to reconnect with him and, if possible, clear his name. Pretty, bulldog-like Nell is perfect for the task. Though she might pass for a fine Boston lady, if not by the Hewitt servants, her shady poverty stricken past gives her insight into Boston’s underground world and the sometimes corrupt police. As her employer, the genteel Viola, tells her, “You’re so much freer than I am, really -freer than any woman of rank. ..the governess...neither servant nor pampered gentlewoman...is blessed to be able to come and go as she pleases.”

Historical depth is pride of place in Ryan’s story. Readers learn of addictions to alcohol and drugs in 1868 Boston. They are treated to lengthy descriptions of opium “hop” dens, and the horrific treatment of Northern prisoners in the Confederate’s Anderson prison, and the lives of Boston brahmin families, some of whom had made their ancestral wealth through profits in opium sent by tons to Canton despite the ban by the Chinese government. Only fault is the lack of resources used, and author comments on historical background.

This is the first of three Nell Sweeney mysteries.



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