“Scandal On Rincon Hill”, ISBN 978-0-312-38697-9, St. Martin’s Press, is the fourth Sara Woolson mystery by Shirley Tallman. The mysteries take place in 19th Century California, not the most welcoming place for a woman lawyer.
In “Scandal On Rincon Hill”it has happened again. Sara Woolson is caught up in murder. As a woman lawyer in 19th Century San Francisco, Sara has trouble just getting enough paying clients without getting caught up in mysteries she can’t solve and with clients she can’t seem to help due to the prevailing cultural and police prejudices.
When just before Christmas in 1881, Sergeant George Lewis of the San Francisco police force wakes Sara up in the middle of the night in order to contact her brother, a reporter, Sara Woolson wants to know why. When Woolson discovers there has been a murder just blocks from their home on Rincon Hill, Sara knows she must accompany her brother Samuel and Sergeant Lewis to the scene.
An eye witness claims to have seem someone leaving the gruesome scene. Robbery doesn’t seem to be the motive. Could the victim’s defense of Darwin’s theory be a reason? Could the murderer be among the high society guests of the party the victim attended, along with Sara Woolson’s own parents, the evening before?
With few clues and a police force that would rather blame the murder on a chance happening, Sara Woolson has little to go on even with her brother Samuel’s assistance. When murder happens again, Sara finds herself defending two innocent immigrants from China Town. Sara Woolson realizes without finding the true killer on the loose, her clients have no chance. Even when her reputation and life is on the line, Sara Woolson seeks the truth.
But can even she turn in the murderer once he or she is uncovered?
Add in a case of a young woman seeking help on a very unusual contract and two men vying her her favor, and Sara Woolson finds herself trying to untangle not only the “Scandal On Rincon Hill,” but also threads of her personal life and goals. Will she stand by her heart’s desire to be a lawyer and pave the way for other women to come after her, or will the desire for hearth and home prove too strong?
“Scandal On Rincon Hill” by Shirley Tallman captures the essence of 19th Century San Francisco and the hurdles women had to overcome to have a job other than wife, teacher, nanny or prostitute. The reader of Tallman’s Woolson’s mysteries are drawn into the time period and into the lives of Sara and the Woolson family.
After “Scandal On Rincon Hill,” I can’t help but wonder what’s up next for the courageous lawyer.