Rosemary Simpson uses historical accounts and actual figures to bring her debut historical mystery to life. What the Dead Leave Behind, set during New York City's Gilded Age, is a story that crosses all classes, running from a wealthy household on Fifth Avenue to Irish saloons. And, the opening scene, an actual event, could not be more dramatic.
There were two hundred people killed in New York City in the March 1888 blizzard. One of them is lawyer Charles Linwood, the fiance of heiress Prudence MacKenzie. He's found frozen on a bench, hit on the head by a tree branch. In his hand is an ace of spades, a signal to his old friend, ex-Pinkerton agent Geoffrey Hunter, that something was wrong. His death leaves Prudence trapped with her stepmother as her trustee, a woman Prudence doesn't trust. When Prudence can break herself from the sway of the laudanum her stepmother, Victoria, doses her with, she turns to her father's lawyer, Roscoe Conkling, for help. Together, Prudence and Conkling enlist Hunter in the search for answers. Who was Victoria MacKenzie before her marriage? And, what hold did she have on Prudence's late father, a well-respected judge?
While Hunter does much of the outside investigation, Prudence continues to put herself in danger in a household that has changed drastically since her new stepmother took over. Prudence can only trust an Irish maid and the stableman. But, her search for answers even endangers them, as an accident leaves one of them struggling for life.
Hunter and Prudence put together an unlikely team. As they coerce answers from a doctor and a mortician, they turn to others for help. There's an ex-policeman with connections with everyone from an underworld boss to people who sympathized with the lost cause of the Confederacy. They work with a blind code breaker and his skilled daughter. And, there's an entire group of retired servants and a hansom cab driver who are eager to assist them.
Simpson's debut mystery crosses classes in an investigation into the past of an evil woman and her brother. Someone knows the truth in this suspenseful story that successfully incorporates real people and actual events. What the Dead Leave Behind is a fascinating historical mystery featuring an intrepid young woman, and the people who are willing to help her.
What the Dead Leave Behind by Rosemary Simpson. Kensington Books. 2017. ISBN 9781496709080 (hardcover), 304p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review it for a journal.