Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

New York City - 1860s

©1996-2013
womeninworldhistory.com

The Spice Box

First of three in a series!
by Lou Jane Temple

Young, orphaned, Irish immigrant Bridget Heaney fortunately learned to cook during her employment at a German boarding house. This skill has landed her a job as assistant cook in the Manhattan mansion of Jewish department store owner Isaac Gold. On the first day of work she discovers the body of the family’s youngest son, and is recruited by Mr. Gold to help him uncover the perpetrator of the crime and reasons for his son’s death.

The story illustrates nineteenth century upstairs-downstairs distinctions and the rigid hierarchy among the staff according to the jobs they do. Bridget’s forays downtown to the “real” New York let us see the world of poor Irish and Germans, uncared for children, prostitutes, crime, and unhealthy sanitation. Blackwell Island’s “lunatic asylum,” the alms houses, the orphan house, New York’s stock exchange, and Jewish rituals surrounding mourning, all appear in the story. But the textbook like narrative in the telling of all this makes for dull reading. As difficult to handle are the times the characters speak in late twentieth century language, and the moments when Bridget, this orphan so new to the upper class world, pontificates in a way that seems out of character. And would wealthy Mr. Gold develop a companionate relationship with a servant he just met?

The author is a caterer and chef who has written contemporary mysteries featuring a chef and food themes. Cooks will love the story’s detailed descriptions of the meals Bridget prepares. At the end are recipes of some of the dishes featured in the book.

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