Author: Victoria Thompson
Publisher: Berkley Books
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐
Murder on Union Square was the 21st book of the Gaslight Mysteries series, and so there was much that I could not relate to. Even so, I plodded through, hoping the mystery would make for enjoyable reading.
Sarah and Frank Malloy want to adopt Catherine, the illegitimate daughter of David Wilbanks and actress Emma Hardy. Emma’s husband, actor Parnell Vaughn, is willing to sign away his custody rights, but actress Eliza Grimes, who claims to be his fiancée, insists on payment of $1000.
On the day when Frank goes to the theatre to get Vaughn’s signature, he comes across the bloodied body of Vaughn. Just then Eliza shows up and accuses Frank of having murdered Vaughn.
Frank is arrested and later released on bail. The lawyer assures Frank that he can bury the case so he is free to live his life. But Frank is determined to solve the mystery and expose the real killer.
Sarah and Frank work jointly on the investigation, with Frank’s assistant Gino and the couple’s nanny, Maeve, also aiding in the investigation.
The suspects are Adelia Hawkes, who played the part of the leading lady to Vaughn’s leading man, despite being Vaughn’s senior by 15 years, and who professed to be in love with him. There is Adelia’s husband, Baxter, who must have resented his wife’s sexual relationships with Vaughn.
There is Eliza, who claims to be Vaughn’s fiancée, and Armistead Winters, the man who is in love with Eliza, and resented her closeness with Vaughn.
Lastly, there is theatrical agent Dinsmore who was the last to see Vaughn alive.
The background became clear soon enough. Apparently, Frank ran a detective agency, after having unceremoniously lost his job in the police force. And Sarah is a former midwife who is building a maternity clinic.
Right away I must say that I wasn’t too impressed with the mystery. It didn’t seem solid and airtight, which is the impression that a good murder mystery should leave you with.
The author indicates that the mystery is compounded by the fact that the murder happens in the theatre so anyone could have killed him and washed the stains off. What’s more, all the suspects are actors, and therefore, capable of playing roles, and lying artfully.
While the story starts with the couple wanting to adopt Catherine, we don’t see much of the child. The plot revolves totally around the murder.
Because the state of forensic medicine and investigative methods are far less developed, Frank and his team have no option but to question the suspects in an attempt to get at the truth. So they end up splitting hairs over the details in suspects’ accounts in their bid to tease out the killer.
Even so, it is annoying when they keep asking repetitive questions, hoping to catch suspects lying or hoping to encounter inconsistencies in the stories.
Each time they think of something new, they return to the same suspects with a few more questions. I’m surprised the suspects allow them to hang around for so long.
Also, the part where Frank, Sarah, Gino and Maeve sit down and chat with each other, exchanging findings and trading suspicions was tedious.
The senior Mrs Molloy was another irritant. Apparently, her role was to innocuously suggest some breakthrough, on account of the fact that she devours film magazines. She was a very tepid character, despite the author's attempt to pass her off as someone formidable.
Another thing that rankled was that when most characters expressed unwillingness to speak with Frank because he was the prime accused, he defended himself saying, if I had killed him, would I be so eager to find out the truth? Pretty lame defence.
What’s more, even after they figure out an important clue, they don’t solve the mystery, but keep going around and around in circles.
The pace does not ever speed up and there is no sense of a deadline menacing over them. As a reader, I didn’t feel compelled to guess the identity of the killer. On the contrary, I felt a huge sense of boredom, hoping they’d come up with something quickly.
(I received an ARC from First to Read).