If you want a 19th century detective novel based on a loving sister's journey for justice for her baby sister, as this book promised, keep walking. There is nothing to see here.
If you wanted to read about a sanctimonious, passive-aggressive, holier-than-thou bitch of a sister and her personal journey to find her sister's killer through pure fucking luck for no other reason than to assuage her personal guilt in the role she played in contributing to her so-called-beloved sister's death, then by all means, settle in, my dear friend. It's the biggest lie on earth to slap a "detective" label on this book, because it relies on no other methods of detection besides the overuse of a literary device that I absolutely fucking hate called deus ex fucking machina.
If I happen to capture the #1 most wanted on the FBI's Top Ten list because the criminal happened to be hiding underneath my car as I ran him over unknowingly, it doesn't make me a fucking bounty hunter because there is no fucking skill involved beyond that of pure bloody luck. What happens within this book doesn't make it a fucking detective novel because there is no methodology whatsoever besides the dilletante actions of a TSTL socialite/missionary and the unenthusiastic dabblings of a wealthy Detective Sergeant who plays at being a fucking police detective. I say play, because to him, it is nothing but play. The ass wanker is actually happy to have a murder to investigate because he's so fucking bored with his fucking job, which begs the question of why he's actually working as a detective at all when he can clearly afford to do something else with his useless waste of a brain.
There is a thing as outright murder, in which a person actually takes another person's life, but that's not the only way to kill someone. And then there's involuntary manslaughter, in which the killer has less culpability. For example, leaving a charged gun in the open where a child can reach it. That person may not have pulled the trigger, but they are still responsible for a death. I hereby accuse Beret Osmundsen of involuntary manslaughter. The victim: her sister. I'm only being mildly facetious, but I do find her grossly negligent and excessively cruel in her treatment of her "immoral" sister, Lillie.
You may recall that I have a sister, who is around 10 years younger than I am, whom I adore. She and I are exactly the same age apart as the sisters in this book, Beret and Lillie. I read this book because I love historical novels featuring amateur female detectives, and the premise of a sisterly vengeance is one that I love.
I wish I had never read this book. What a disgusting waste of my time. What a travesty of a book. I have never read a criminal investigative book with so much rampant victim-blaming and slut-shaming as this book features. Find a pair of glasses. Cover it with some red cellophane. Listen to some Rammstein. Open up a white-supremacy website and some anti-feminism forums and read through a few pages. Then you'll get a feel of how I felt while reading this book. There was a lot of anger, a lot of rage, a lot of fucking fury and disgust at the level of sly-hate-disguised-as-love within this book.
As for sisterly love? Sisterly grief? What fucking grief? One of Beret's first thoughts upon finding out that her sister has been cruelly murdered is to cry "from rage as she realized she would never be able to extract the remorse from Lillie that was due." Beret's mindset throughout her investigation is that of "I AM SUCH A GOOD PERSON BECAUSE I LOVE MY SISTER DESPITE THE FACT THAT SHE FLIRTS WITH ANYTHING WITH A PENIS, AND SHE'S SUCH A FUCKING SLUT THAT SHE PRETTY MUCH ASKED TO BE MURDERED BY BEING STABBED SEVEN TIMES WITH A PAIR OF SCISSORS."
Summary: Sombrero Bonnet Fedora Turban DAMMIT. Beret. That's her name. Beret Osmundsen's sister Lillie is murdered in a brothel in Denver, Colorado. Beret thinks her sister is a little slut, who betrayed her despite the fact that Beret has loved Lillie her whole life. Being the wonderful, perfect, virtuous person she is, Beret sets out to fall in love with the Detective in charge of solving her sister's murder. Sombrero and Michael subsequently bond over the long walks they take, the restaurant meals they share, and the many prostitutes' murders over which they kinda, sorta, investigate.
DAMMIT. Beret. Beret. Her name is Beret. Not Sombrero. Get your head hat on straight, Khanh.
The Characters: This is usually the part in the review where I go over whether a character is complex or not, her development, blah blah blah. Fuck that. I fucking hated Beret's guts, and here are the reasons why you should, too.
Beret: Missionary, my ass. For someone who supposedly does so much good works as a missionary, Beret is a hypocritical, snobbish, judgmental bitch. There are two types of missionaries: one who truly do good, and the other who simply do good for the sake of feeling good about themselves. I believe Beret is the latter. She is such a snob. She looks down on the newly wealthy in Denver for their garish tastes in clothing, housing, furniture, despite being new money herself. Despite working with the poor, the beaten, the unfortunate at her mission, Beret has a surprising lack of sympathy for the prostitutes who work at the brothel in which they used to work. The prostitutes there are seductive, sly, nefarious whore. Nothing more. There is zero sympathy for those women or for their circumstances.
Beret is also judgmental of people based on their appearance. Apparently, if you're ugly, you're shit out of luck, and anyone who looks upon an ugly person kindly, like her aunt, must be a fucking saint.
Jonas looked directly at Beret now, and she saw the freakish scars on his face and thought what a good woman her aunt had been to pick up such an ugly child, a child other society women might find offensive, and take him into her home. [She] had been the soul of compassion.
Beret is also surprisingly racist, despite the fact that she's a missionary. I get it, it's the 19th century, racism is rampant, but I would hope to think that a missionary might be kinder, but no. Beret is horrified that her sister had been a prostitute, and even more horrified to realize that her sister might have entertained a Negro. Her words, not mine. And also, Chinaman. I understand the use of these words in a historical context, but given that there is no use and no room and no point relevant to the plot, is the inclusion of such racist, cruel words even necessary?
Beret claims to love her sister. She is a fucking liar. Remember what I said about culpability earlier? Yeah. Usually when a character cries "I killed her!" I'm the first to say "NO YOU DIDN'T, YOU DUM DUM HEAD." In this case, yes, Beret almost killed her sister. It's the fucking 19th century. There ain't a lot of options for a very young, very vulnerable woman when she has been cast out onto the streets by her sister and guardian who should have been taking care of her, no matter what she's done. And what does Beret do? Throw Lillie out of the house on a transgression.
I told him Lillie should be cut off until she saw the error of her ways and apologized, and that’s exactly what he did.
Beret throws Lillie out of the house that Lillie also owns, by their late parents' will. Beret cuts off Lillie's access to money, money that is Lillie's. Lillie doesn't know she couldn't be thrown out of her home and therefore leaves. What's worse is that Beret convinces everyone, their lawyer, their remaining family, that Lillie is incompetent and immoral and undeserving of receiving her own inheritance. And then Lillie ends up in a brothel, stabbed to a bloody death by seven scissor wounds.
Beret believes it's Lillie's fault for bringing her murder upon herself. Indeed, everyone she talks to seems to think Lillie deserved it.
Beret found herself hating Lillie and thinking her sister deserved what she’d gotten
Lillie is so beautiful, that looking upon her sister's corpse, Beret asks the detective whether he has fallen in love with her corpse, too. Fuck you, Beret. Lillie is a seductive child. She goes after anything with a dick. She is cruel, she is manipulative. It is Lillie's beauty that leads men to behave like fools around her. It is not the men's fault at all. Beret hated Lillie and tossed her out because she caught her sister in bed with her husband. Aaaaaaand...
You would think after working with so many poor women who’d been abused by their husbands or been forced to sacrifice their honor to their employers that I would have known the man was always at fault. But I’m afraid I reacted like a typical scorned woman. I blamed the other woman—my sister.
Yeah, typical. Fuck you, Beret. Act like a whore, get murdered, it's what any ho deserves, right? Fuck you, Beret.
Lillie: I get that the book is trying to make Lillie into a bad character. It doesn't work. Why? HER CHARACTER. Always, always, ALWAYS, it's HER CHARACTER. Why is she so bad? IT'S HER CHARACTER. Why does she constantly seek attention from men? IT'S HER CHARACTER. Why do men always fall in love with her? IT'S HER CHARACTER. Why is she so despicable? IT'S HER CHARACTER.
Fuck her character. This ain't some Freudian shit, and I'm not a 5-year old who you can spoon fucking feed into believe someone is bad simply because you fucking tell me she is. You want me to hate a character, you better fucking give me a good fucking reason. We get to see glimpses of Lillie from childhood to present, and I see a little girl who grew from a somewhat spoiled childhood into someone who's the fucking Whore of Babylon. Give me some fucking proof because I don't fucking buy what I was given.
Setting & Plot: I can't help but wonder that this book needed a better editor, for surely, 5 minutes on Wikipedia can tell you much. Like the fact that there are no skyscrapers in New York in the year 1885. I read historical books because I want to forget about the present. I live in a time where social media and modernity hits me in the face every 5 seconds and I want to get away from that. When I read a historical novel, I want it to be historically accurate, and I don't want modern details sneaking in that slaps me back rudely into the present. I'm sure the word "criminologist" existed in 1885. I'm sure hot running water existed in 1885. I'm pretty fucking sure that the use of either is not prevalent, and I really don't want to see it in my 19th century-based novel. I'm sure that the word "crush" existed, in fact, it was recorded as being first used in 1884 in the modern context. Would it have been commonly used in 1885? Fucking no.
Yeah, I'm anal about details. Get over it, or get a better editor.
The plot is straightforward enough, but there is a minute amount of detection, and a considerable amount of accidental discovery and stupidity. Frankly, there was no point for having Detective Sergeant Michael in the book in the damn place. Beret at first suspected that he is a political appointee, and also believes that the police are largely incompetent. Well, she was right, because the police and the Big, Brawny Detective himself are completely and utterly useless in this novel. Their role seem limited to poring over corpses, making some vague hypotheses, and the rest of the time is spent making googly eyes at each other in some odd, macabre courtship ritual over death.
Which is not to say Beret herself is any more competent, rather less, and still considerably more despicable. As I mentioned previously, there is an ample amount of stupidity within Beret. She continually gets herself into dangerous situations, despite knowing better, and ends up being saved only by an act of Providence, which is to say, things happen by chance to rescue Beret's dumb ass once too many time for me to believe.
Fuck this book.