Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

Los Angeles - 1903

©1996-2013
womeninworldhistory.com

City of Angels

by Tracie Paterson and James Scott Bell

Twenty-three year old Kit Shannon has just arrived in Los Angeles. Transplanted from New York City, she is welcomed into the care of her wealthy aunt Frederica. But when Kit reveals her determination to practice law, her aunt and it seems all of Los Angeles predict her social downfall. As she is told by the malevolent lawyer who has eyes for her aunt’s money, women, “the softer sex, the nurturers of our society,” were incapable of handling legal matters. Women lawyers indeed were a rarity. Female trial lawyers were virtually non-existent. Most state codes limited bar admission to white male citizens, although in 1878 Clara Shortridge managed to overturn California’s code.

Luckily Kit meets Earl Rogers, the city’s prominent but hard drinking criminal lawyer. Impressed with her fighting spirit and natural legal gifts, he takes her on as an assistant. Almost at once, she finds herself helping Earl find a way to defend Ted Fox, a man accused of being a serial killer. Kit, who has already socially met Ted and enjoys his company, is conflicted when he is reluctant to assist in his own defense.

1903 Los Angeles is described as having “one boot in the Wild West,” the other, “kicking at the new century.” The Southern Pacific railroad has helped create a population boomlet by bringing people from the East and Midwest. The electric cable car system and new gasoline powered buggies seem to assure the city’s future reliance on machines over horses. Class disparities are shown, from the Mexican-American servant Corozon, to the prostitutes working out of “cribs” found near the El Pueblo Plaza, to the upper and middle class women busy hosting parties, bridge games, and occasional seances. Above all, there is corruption. Blackmail and money freely buy off the chief of police, judge, and witnesses.

The book’s faith-based authors insert spiritual themes throughout the story. Scripture quoting Kit relies on God’s Will to direct her actions. She challenges Darwinian beliefs, and is upset with the minister who emphasizes the spirit of the Bible, the spirit of “social justice,” rather than the literal Word of God.

The book’s sometimes odd plot sequences, black and white characters, and events which push Kit too rapidly to the top can tarnish the tale. The Author’s Note contains interesting facts about court procedures circa 1903. This is the first of the Kit Shannon series.

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