Published by Sourcebooks ISBN 9781492638926
Trade paperback, $15.99, 314 pages
I'd never been to the Mysterious Bookshop, and was very impressed. The shop is small, but wonderfully organized. They have bookshelves that line the perimeter from the floor to the very high ceiling. They host many events there, and have an extensive collection of signed books, which are helpfully labeled with a bright pink label on each book.
A standing-room only crowd was in attendance to hear Radha Vatsal speak about her newest book. I first heard Ms. Vatsal at Bryant Park's Author Series talking about her first Kitty Weeks' book, A Front Page Affair, which I enjoyed very much.
I'm happy to say that Murder Between the Lines is even better. This time young New York Sentinel Ladies' Page reporter Capability "Kitty" Weeks is writing a story about Westfield Hall, an exclusive girls' school in New York City in 1915.
Kitty is delighted to speak with Elspeth Bright, a student whose interest in science is ahead of her time. When Elspeth is found dead in Central Park, the result of her freezing to death during a sleepwalking episode, Kitty is led to believe that there is more to it than just an accident and begins investigating.
Vatsal does a great deal of research, which she said is made much easier now that old copies of The New York Times are now archived online, and she saw a headline "Girl Somnambulist Freezes" that gave her the storyline.
I love the historical context of these books, and Vatsal's research is evident on the page. In Murder Between the Lines she manages to work in sleepwalking, Thomas Edison's new batteries to be used in naval technology, President Woodrow Wilson's marriage to Edith Galt, and the burgeoning suffragette movement into her story. You get a real context for events of that time period.
The scene set in the Waldorf Astoria, where President Wilson is set to give a speech and where the suffragettes hope to meet with him, is so evocative. If you close your eyes, you feel as if you are walking in Peacock Alley in the iconic hotel, which, sadly, is closed for renovations now and under new ownership. I was glad Vatsal chose to read from that section at the book launch.
During the Q&A period, Vatsal spoke of how women in the 1910s had more opportunities, particularly in the fields of film and academia. There were many more female silent film directors than there are even today. There were over 600 epsidoes of 30 film series featuring female heroines, like The Hazards of Helen. Vatsal describes a scene of Helen chasing down men who stole money from her, fighting them on top of a moving train.
I'm sure that we will see some of these women in future Kitty Weeks mysteries. Vatsal explained to the crowd that in the 1920s, professional requirements such as more education in areas of law and academia meant that women were increasingly shut out of those professions.
If you are a fan of Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mysteries, or Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, you will want to read Radha Vatsal's Kitty Weeks mysteries. I highly recommend Murder Between the Lines.
Radha Vatsal's website is here.