Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

San Francisco - 1880


Murder on Nob Hill

by Shirley Tallman

By evoking her famous lawyer father’s name, Sarah Woolson has managed to get one of San Francisco’s staid legal offices to reluctantly, and provisionally, accept her as one of their attorneys. She still must struggle to disprove society’s view that a woman lacks the nerve and strength of body for such a rigorous profession. It doesn’t help that the man who most fascinates her, and who obviously is bound to become a future love interest, seems the most determined to obstruct her efforts to succeed. Feisty Sarah, however, doggedly sets out to prove the innocence of her only client, a society woman accused of her husband’s murder. In the process her daring pursuits uncover links between this murder and that of other prominent citizens.

The author, a romance writer new to historical fiction, has ensured that the reader learn about notable San Francisco 1880s events. Much of this information, however, is not smoothly integrated into the story nor integral to the plot development. What is key is her reference to the discrimination against the Chinese brought into the state to lay tracks for the Central Pacific Railroad, the power of California’s “big four” (Misters Stanford, Huntington, Crocker and Hopkins), the description of Chinatown tongs and opium dens, the wide spread city graft, and the courageous rescues by Margaret Culbertson of Chinese girls sold into the Chinatown brothels. A small point: The season references are sometimes jarring. The late summer fog is right, but by this time the California poppies are pretty much faded and rain this heavy would be early and rare.

The Historical Note gives credit to Clara Shortridge Flotz, admitted to the California bar in September of 1878, who drafted what became known as “The Woman Lawyer’s Bill” which resulted in allowing women to become working attorneys. Also mentioned is Laura De Force Gordon who became the first woman to argue a murder case in San Francisco in 1879. The authors of “City of Angels” (LA 1903), reviewed on this site, also use Shortridge as a role model for their equally feisty lawyer heroine.


Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery, a book from the same period, is reviewed here.


Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
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