(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Celia Davies knows what it's like to feel lost and alone. Seven years ago, she left a prosperous life in England to come to America with her handsome Irish husband. With Patrick now missing at sea, 29-year-old Celia is "not quite a wife, not quite a widow." Thanks to a small inheritance left to her by a beloved uncle, she's able to fill her days with worthwhile, though controversial work. Celia, a nurse who served in the Crimea, operates a free clinic for indigent women out of her dead uncle's home. With the help of her orphaned, half-Chinese niece and their outspoken Scottish housekeeper, she serves San Francisco's most helpless residents: the poor, the hated "Celestials," and women of ill repute. As prejudice against the city's Chinese immigrants comes to a violent boiling point, Celia's choice of patients makes her a target for criticism from some of the city's most influential residents.
When the body of a young Chinese prostitute is found floating near the docks, Celia is shocked to discover that she knew the dead girl. As Celia helped Li Sha create a better life for herself, the two became friends. Now, the pregnant young woman has been murdered. Outraged, Celia vows to bring Li Sha's killer to justice.
Detective Nicholas Greaves has seen his share of corpses. This one, however, tears at his heart and conscience, for he failed to save his younger sister from a similar fate. Determined to figure out what happened to the girl, he begins to investigate everyone who knew Li Sha. Clues lead him not just to the bars and brothels of the Barbary Coast, but also to the highest echelons of San Francisco society. They also bring him in contact with the captivating Mrs. Davies, whose brother-in-law has been brought in for questioning. Forming an unwitting investigate team, Nick and Celia follow the sinister trail of a vicious killer, hoping to unmask the murderer before they become the next victims.
No Comfort for the Lost, the first book in Nancy Herriman's Old San Francisco mystery series, introduces us to a vibrant historical setting filled with equally colorful characters. Both Celia and Nick are brave, admirable souls trying to do some right in a city filled to the brim with wrong. Rooting for the smart, capable pair is a no-brainer. What the novel's plot lacks in originality, it makes up for in slow, steady construction, which creates an even-paced story that remains compelling from its first page to its last. While No Comfort for the Lost comes to a satisfying conclusion (and no, I didn't guess the killer's identity—at least not accurately!), it leaves plenty of intriguing questions to be explored in subsequent novels. I thoroughly enjoyed this engrossing, atmospheric series debut and am not entirely sure I can wait for the next installment (No Pity for the Dead comes out in August 2016)!
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't think of anything. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for mild language, violence, and frequent (though not graphic) references to prostitution, adultery, and the excessive use of alcohol and opium
To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of No Comfort for the Lost from the generous folks at Penguin Random House. Thank you!