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Book Author: Shirley Tallman

DEATH ON TELEGRAPH HILL by Shirley Tallman: Book Review

Sarah Woolson is the third woman licensed as an attorney in California.  Everywhere she goes, men and women are astonished to find out there is such a being–a woman and a lawyer, an impossible combination to many in San Francisco in the year 1882.  But Sarah is intelligent, ambitious, and not about to give in to those who believe it’s impossible for a woman to be a lawyer.  And once she takes a case, she will not give up.

Sarah lives with her parents, her single younger brother, and her married older brother and his family in the elegant Woolson family home.  Much as she loves her family, Sarah is anxious for her practice to be successful enough for her to rent her own rooms, away from the over-anxious eyes of her parents.  But that day isn’t here yet.

As Sarah and her brother Samuel are returning with a group from a literary function featuring the Irish poet Oscar Wilde at the home of newspaper publisher Mortimer Remy, Samuel is shot and wounded.  The police and several others in the party believe it to be an accident, a resident of Telegraph Hill shooting at a small animal in the dark, not an unusual occurrence.  Sarah’s not convinced and is even less willing to believe in the accident theory when, several days later, the body of a Telegraph Hill resident who also attended Mortimer’s party is found hanging from a tree.

The police lieutenant in charge of the case calls the death a suicide, but Sarah’s friend Sergeant George Lewis of the city’s police department agrees with Sarah. However, there’s little to go on until another body turns up.

Death on Telegraph Hill paints a detailed picture of San Francisco more than a century and a quarter ago.  Sarah is definitely a woman ahead of her time, a woman who has coolly decided on a career rather than marriage and children.  But then there’s Robert Campbell, another attorney, who is trying to change her mind about the marriage part of her decision.  There’s a large cast of characters including younger brother Samuel; Sarah’s friend, the woman she rents office space from, Fanny Goodman; the young Eddie Cooper, a teenaged carriage driver who is always anxious to help Sarah; and the several people who were at the reception the night that Samuel was shot.  Each one has a distinct personality and helps bring the novel to life.

And the picture of Oscar Wilde is hilarious.  Although well-known in literary circles, he’s definitely not what people are used to in San Francisco; the locals don’t know what to make of him.  “Attired in a maroon velvet smoking jacket edged with braid, a lavender silk shirt, flowing green cravat, knee breeches, and black shoes with silver buckets….”  Well, you get the idea.  Apparently his sexual preferences have made their way across the ocean, and some rude comments about that were also voiced by his audience.  However, Oscar remains impervious; he probably has heard similar jeers and insults before.

This is the fifth mystery in the Sarah Woolson series but only the first I’ve read.  So the good news is that I have four more novels in this excellent series waiting for me.

You can read more about Shirley Tallman at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.