Cleopatra’s Dagger

Carole Lawrence. Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (390p) ISBN 978-1-5420-1430-4

Set in 1880 Manhattan, this excellent whodunit from Lawrence (the Ian Hamilton mysteries) stars Elizabeth van den Broek, the New York Herald’s only female reporter. Typically assigned to stories about high society soirees, Elizabeth hopes to be able to cover crime and soon gets the chance to do so. While riding the Third Avenue El, she spots a man in an upper-story apartment window apparently strangling a woman. Her editor rejects her pitch to investigate, but Elizabeth does so anyway, and her suspicions of foul play increase when she learns that the female occupant of the apartment has disappeared. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s serendipitous find of a woman’s corpse buried in the hole being dug for the city’s new Egyptian obelisk, Cleopatra’s Needle, could be related to the case. Elizabeth’s sleuthing never strains credulity, and Lawrence makes New York City come alive with numerous colorful details, from its mean streets, where girls selling hot corn differ “from prostitutes only in that they were usually younger and (hopefully) not sexually available,” to the transit options of the time. Fans of Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight mysteries will hope for a sequel. Agent: Paige Wheeler, Creative Media. (Apr.)