Set in turn-of-the-century Manhattan, Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy is called to investigate the death of wealthy businessman Nehemiah Wooten, who was found in his office with his head bashed in from a silver loving cup. Wooten is on the board of The Lexington Avenue School, a school for deaf children, and is the father of Electra, who is deaf and attends the school.
As the mystery unfolds, we learn many things:
- The Lexington Avenue School is not an advocate of sign language. Rather, it teaches lip reading.
- Electra, who is attending The Lexington Avenue School, and is the daughter of the dead man, is secretly learning sign language from a teacher at The New York Institute For The Deaf and Dumb.
- Wooten was a supporter of the eugenics theory: if a deaf person marries a deaf person and they produce children, the children will be deaf. (Illness, defects, etc. breed illness and defects, if you will).
- Wooten's wife was having an affair, and she is with-child.
- Electra is in love with her sign language teacher and plans to marry him.
Enter Sarah Brandt, local midwife who tends to some of the city's poorest women. She is called upon by the family of Mrs. Wooten to help deliver her baby so that the family doctor who is considered a gossip, won't learn the truth about the baby's father.
Sarah Brandt is all too familiar with police work from some of the other cases she has helped Frank Malloy solve. This time, she has a distinct advantage being welcomed into the Wooten family home to help care for Mrs. Wooten and her newborn. From her inside position, Sarah is able to help Malloy question the suspects and eliminate them one by one.
Was it Electra, Wooten's daughter who so wanted to marry the deaf teacher she had come to love?
Was it Electra's teacher, who so wanted to marry Wooten's daughter, with or without his blessing?
Was it Leander, Electra's brother and Wooten's son, who was trying to protect his sister?
Was it Wooten's partner, who was possibly embezzling money and trying to buy Wooten's share of the business?
Was it Mrs. Wooten's lover, who wanted to be with the love of his life, without her husband interfering?
The whole scenario makes for a great mystery along with a little scandal and mayhem in old-fashioned New York City.
As many of you know, The Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson are my favorite mystery series ever! And while I did enjoy the mystery itself, I was a little disappointed with this setting. In prior Gaslights, there was much more in the way of historical tidbits. Or, I should say New York history. In Lexington Avenue, there wasn't too much mentioned about historical landmarks or well known places in the city. It didn't seem as rich in detail as say: Murder In Little Italy, or Murder In Chinatown.
That aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Murder On Lexington Avenue. I've come to love the characters of Sarah Brandt and her side story Catherine, the little girl she adopted from an orphanage in an earlier Gaslight; and Malloy's side story of his deaf son Brian, and his curmudgeonly mother.
What I did like about Lexington Avenue was the mention of eugenics. At first, I wasn't positive what it meant, but after reading more into the novel, it was explained more in depth. It was a theory of Alexander Graham Bell, who believed that when ill or mentally retarded people married one another, the children they bred would be ill or mentally retarded. Many people in that day did believe the theory of eugenics. This theory has also carried weight with the Nazis when they were looking to preserve and perfect the Aryan race. Thus, hundreds of thousands of people were inhumanely sterilized for fear that their mental retardation, feeble mindedness, or insanity would breed more of the same.
I found that aspect of the story fascinating. Partly because some thirty years later, it did end up playing a huge role in the history of Nazi Germany, and partly because it is such an unimaginable theory!
It was an unexpected history lesson in a fictionalized novel of fact.