In 1913, while the women’s suffrage movement gains momentum in the nation’s capital, the thought of a woman joining the New York City police force is downright radical, even if recent transplant Louise Faulk has already solved a murder . . .
Louise has finally gathered the courage to take the police civil service exam, but when she returns to her secretary job at the midtown publishing house of Van Hooten and McChesney, she’s shocked to find the offices smoldering from a deadly, early morning fire. Huddled on the sidewalk, her coworkers inform her that Guy Van Hooten’s body has been found in the charred ruins. Rumors of foul play are already circulating, and the firm’s surviving partner asks Louise to investigate the matter.
Despite a number of possible suspects, the last person Louise expects to be arrested is Ogden McChesney, an old friend and mentor to her aunt Irene. Louise will have to search high and low, from the tenements in the Lower East Side to the very clouds above the tallest skyscrapers, to get to the bottom of an increasingly complex case . . .
About the Author
Liz Freeland lives with her husband in Montreal, where she writes and astounds the locals with her makeshift French. An elderly cat or dog (or two . . . or four) can typically be found in her apartment, and during the busiest day, Liz usually finds time to sneak in an old movie.
Read an Excerpt
2. How would you aid a police officer in making the arrest of one or more violent criminals?
My forehead broke out in a dewy film of panic. Ever since this past summer when I'd found myself in the middle of a murder investigation, I'd envisioned myself as a policewoman in the New York Police Department. In my dreams, I would rise quickly through the ranks by dint of hard work, bravery, and cleverness to become a detective. I set my mind on taking the police civil service exam and studied every night after my workday as secretary at the publisher Van Hooten and McChesney. I also set aside Sunday afternoons, as well as any other moment I could sneak a few glances at my well-thumbed pamphlet of New York City's municipal ordinances. I was nothing if not determined.
Yet here I was, taking the long-awaited test, and my cleverness had deserted me at Question 2.
Where to begin? The question was so broad as to render it ludicrous. One or more could mean anything from a single thief to a rioting mob. Were these hypothetical criminals armed? That would make a difference. And what was this police officer doing? I imagined a square-jawed hero in blue taking on a knife-wielding gang. Conversely, I conjured up a novice as weak-kneed and untested as I would be cowering behind the closest solid object between him and the malefactors.
Being bogged down with possibilities might be the opposite of drawing a blank, but it was just as lethal to a test taker. Never mind that I actually had aided a male police officer in the arrest of a violent criminal. Even Detective Frank Muldoon, not my biggest booster, had admitted — eventually — that a seasoned policeman couldn't have played his part in taking down the killer any better than I had done. But a civil service exam wasn't the best place to spin tales of my past derring-do or to crow about my triumph over Detective Muldoon's reactionary attitudes regarding women in law enforcement.
During all my months of preparation for this moment, I'd assumed I was exceptional. An original. Yet the sound of a hundred pencils scritching against paper filled the hall, and all those pencils were pushed by the hands of women with the same dream. The majority of them looked to be in their early twenties like me, although a smattering were a bit longer in the tooth. Judging from appearances, they came from all walks of life: hard-looking, severe women; young women who might have worked at the five-and-dime; a few whose rough clothing and crude shawls gave them the air of being fresh off the boat; even one or two who were so well dressed that I wondered if they'd mistaken this for the entrance exam for Bryn Mawr.
The young woman next to me possessed the bearing of a debutante and had set out this morning in a frock of winter white topped with a ridiculous hat festooned with ribbons, wooden berries, and imitation songbirds around its brim. In order not to soil the silk with pencil lead, she'd removed her right elbow-length glove and draped it over the back of her chair. Yet even she scribbled away, undaunted by Question 2.
What kind of policewoman would I make if I couldn't even face down the exam with the fortitude of this pampered Miss Vanderbilt type? Giving myself a mental shake, I resumed writing. My background is German, not Irish, but what flowed from my pencil onto that test paper was 100 percent genuine blarney. I outlined my intention to assist the stalwart, competent male policeman by offering an extra pair of hands, or my feet to act as his Mercury to fetch help from other stalwart, competent male policemen. I emphasized that my most important duty would be to follow the policeman's orders with alacrity. On and on I wrote, until I filled the required space with my tidiest Palmer method script.
Of the approximately 10,500 officers and detectives the New York Police Department employed, around seventy were female. At most, perhaps ten or fifteen of us in this room would be offered an assignment on a probationary basis. As I handed in my test paper, my odds of attaining one of these sought-after openings seemed slim at best. What did I have that any of these other hundred women didn't?
"When will we hear back?" I asked the sergeant at the front of the room.
He took my papers, tossed them without a glance on top of the stack at his elbow, and then leveled his cold-eyed stare on me. His scowl and gruff manner conveyed how far beneath his dignity he considered proctoring women's exams to be. "After they're graded."
"How long will that be?" I asked. "Weeks? Months?"
"It takes as long as it takes."
A wiseacre remark about the brisk efficiency of the NYPD died before it reached my lips. Something told me Sergeant Doom wouldn't be appreciative.
As I headed for the exit, I debated what to do next. Return to work? I still had my publishing job, thank heavens. But in our flat, my roommate, Callie, would be getting ready for rehearsal, and she'd be curious how the exam went. The urge to commiserate proved too strong to resist. Besides, no one at the office was expecting me. Last night before going home, I'd slipped a note under Guy Van Hooten's office door telling him I had a tooth that needed seeing to and wouldn't be in this morning. Normally I would have informed Mr. McChesney, since Guy was rarely in mornings, but Mr. McChesney was home sick yesterday and I wasn't sure he'd be in today.
I hadn't wanted to proclaim my law enforcement ambitions to anyone at work, and now I was glad I'd held my tongue. If my worst fears about the test results were realized, at least I wouldn't have to confess my disappointment to more than a small circle of confidantes.
I was mentally mapping out my route from the Centre Street headquarters back to Greenwich Village when I froze in surprise at the top of the beaux arts building's granite steps. The dark figure of Detective Frank Muldoon strode toward me, his severe expression making him look like a bird of prey homing in on some unfortunate little mammal. In this case, the mammal was me. Even stranger was the sight of Callie practically skipping at his heels to keep pace with him. The pair created a study in contrasts. He was in gray and black from fedora to shoe leather. She was blonde, with eyes the color of cornflowers, and wore a fitted dress of dusky rose. One tapered, gloved hand clutched at a gold wool cape and the other at a splendid velour hat trimmed with an egret feather.
Apologies bubbled out of Callie even before the two reached me. "I'm sorry — I had to tell him," she called out. "He just showed up and was asking all about what you were up to. Then he started making all sorts of accusations against you, and —"
Muldoon bristled. "I haven't accused her of anything ..."
The word yet hung unspoken in the crisp air.
"Insinuated, then." Callie's frantic gaze was warning me, but of what I had no idea. "He was insinuating like crazy, Louise." They were stopped now, and the full force of Muldoon's glower zeroed in on me. I was ninety-nine percent certain I hadn't committed a crime, but in the sights of that hawkish gaze even Saint Peter might have squirmed a little.
"What's happened?" I asked him.
He answered with another question. "What are you doing here, Louise?"
As if he didn't know. "Taking the civil service exam to become a policewoman." The look of irritation and disdain on his face riled me. "I told you my intentions last summer."
"I didn't think you'd follow through with the preposterous idea."
Preposterous, the man said. To the woman who'd saved his bacon, professionally speaking, not four months ago. "Evidently it's a good thing I did decide to take the exam this morning, since I need an alibi for ..." I tilted my head. "What is it I'm supposed to have done?"
Before he could respond, Callie blurted out the news. "Your boss — he's dead."
That took my breath. Ogden McChesney was an old hypochondriac, but no one had suspected he was really at death's door. "Poor Aunt Irene," I said. "She'll be heartbroken. Mr. McChesney was one of her oldest friends —"
"Not Mr. McChesney," Callie said. "It was the young one."
"Guy?" That didn't seem possible. Guy Van Hooten, scion of the firm, was just over thirty. He wasn't in the pink — too many late nights, too much booze — but he certainly couldn't have dropped dead from stress or overwork. Indolence was his watchword. Some weeks he never even showed his face in the office.
Heaven knows he wasn't my favorite person in the world, but I'd never wished him ill. At least, not a fatal kind of ill. "How did he die?"
Muldoon's mouth flattened to a grim line. "We aren't sure."
"It was a fire," said Callie, in full town crier mode now. "The Van Hooten and McChesney building burned down, and Guy was found inside. Detective Muldoon here told me all that's left of your office is ashes."
The shock of my place of work's burning to the ground — perhaps sending my safe job up in flames along with it — would take time to absorb. Right now the startling news of Guy's death still gripped me. "When did this happen?"
"This morning," he said.
I tried to knit this together. Detective Muldoon was chasing down absent employees after a fire. Fires broke out all the time in the city. But a young, healthy man not being able to exit a burning building before the conflagration consumed him? That did seem suspicious.
"You'd better come back with me to Thirty-eighth Street," he said in a more kindly tone.
Maybe my test taking had convinced him I didn't kill my boss. But from the set of his jaw, I was now certain a murderer was what he was hunting. And I was inclined to agree. I could count on the fingers of one hand the times I'd seen Guy drag himself into work before noon. What else would account for his being at the office bright and early on a Thursday morning, apart from murder?
* * *
If Callie had come with us, she would have seen that Van Hooten and McChesney wasn't quite reduced to ashes. More of a blackened brick shell. But Callie still had her chorus rehearsal for an upcoming musical comedy, Broadway Frolics, to attend, so I accompanied Muldoon to my old workplace without her.
"Isn't this a little out of your territory?" I asked him as we approached Thirty-eighth Street. Last summer he'd been working out of my local precinct, in Greenwich Village.
"The Twenty-first Precinct's short-handed at the moment. Downtown keeps assigning detectives for special task forces, which ends up reshuffling us all."
I was going to respond, but at that moment we rounded the corner of Thirty-eighth and I saw the damage. A lump formed in my throat. It was one thing to be told my office had burned down, but quite another to view the smoking remains of where I'd spent so many hours. Van Hooten and McChesney's building on East Thirty-eighth had never been distinctive. In recent years the three-story brick edifice had lived in the shadow of newer buildings that had mushroomed on either side. Yet seeing its charred orifices exhaling tendrils of smoke filled me with a sadness I hadn't anticipated. A few glimpses through the broken windows hinted at the devastation inside. I wasn't sure I wanted to see more.
Guy Van Hooten had died in there. I was still struggling to accept that horror as I lifted my skirts and picked my way across wet sidewalks strewn with tiny bits of blackened debris. Policemen canvassed bystanders and neighboring houses to find out if they'd noticed anything suspicious earlier that morning. A bright red motorized fire truck, at least twenty feet long, still blocked the street traffic. Facing it were three horses standing abreast harnessed to an older, smaller engine. The old and the new, muzzle to fender. Firemen were reeling in the hose of the smaller vehicle, while other of their brethren milled nearby ready to douse any lingering flame. Overall, men in uniform were only slightly outnumbered by neighbors and gawkers.
Muldoon broke away from me to confer with police officers, so I drifted over to where my coworkers were huddled together in their coats and hats. The people from the offices upstairs congregated near the next building over. Jackson Beasley, with whom I shared the front office on the first floor, stood off to one side by himself, his black bowler crushed low on his bald head. He always held himself slightly aloof.
"It's about time you got here," Timothy Banks, our copy editor, told me. He was bundled in a long coat and his blue-and-white striped, slightly moth-eaten Columbia University scarf.
Next to him was Bob Sanders, our accountant. Slight, mousy, and nervous, he seemed an odd office mate for Timothy, a tall, jovial type, but they got along well. It was odder still that of the two, Bob was the family man and Timothy the perpetual bachelor. Jackson occasionally referred to them as Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, partly, I thought, out of envy of their friendship.
Bob glanced sidewise at me through his thick glasses and gave me a nudge. "We were beginning to suspect you burned the place down."
You aren't the only ones. I looked over at Muldoon conferring with a fellow detective. Why hadn't he simply sent an officer to my flat to question me? He hadn't needed to go himself. Maybe he'd wanted the satisfaction of snapping the handcuffs on me if I'd looked obviously guilty.
"Has anyone learned more about what happened?" I asked.
"There was one lady who was walking her dog early this morning," Bob said. "Guess she lives in one of the apartment buildings. Timothy's seen her before. She said she saw a strange man lurking around the building this morning in an old brown overcoat and a blue plaid scarf."
"Or maybe green plaid," Timothy said, with a slight roll of his eyes. "She's not sure."
"Brown coat, plaid scarf," I repeated. "That's it?"
"Said he was medium height." Bob's mouth twitched into a frown. "Or maybe tall but hunching over."
Timothy shook his head. "That old bat doesn't know what she's talking about. She's the crazy woman who yelled at me one day for stopping to pet her poodle. She was afraid I was going to kidnap it." "Oh, her." I'd had my own encounters with the crazy poodle lady. Once, she'd accused me of stealing a potted aspidistra from off her windowsill. Not the most reliable of witnesses. "Has anyone been inside?"
Timothy shook his head. "The firemen won't allow it. The building's unstable. Part of the stairwell collapsed, and so did a section of the roof."
"The books are probably all gone, too," Bob said.
I guessed he meant the financial books, though I didn't suppose the other kind survived the conflagration, either.
Timothy nodded. "It's all gone."
As if to punctuate that thought, a loud crack followed by a crash sounded from inside the burned building. Shouts erupted. Two men were inside and came running out, followed by a cloud of smoke and debris huffing out the door and windows. "The staircase!" someone shouted, and firemen surged forward with a hose as spectators moved back.
During the hubbub, I drifted over to Jackson, who wasted no time filling me in on the morning's gruesome details. "Guy was hunched over his desk when the firemen found him, his body burned all over." He lifted his hat and wiped a handkerchief over the broad expanse of his brow, which, thanks to his receding hairline, seemed to account for almost half the acreage of his head.
"How awful," I said.
In a drawl that eight years spent on and off north of the Mason-Dixon line had not eradicated, he went on, "I had to identify him, which wasn't easy to do, I assure you. Guy was a cinder. And the smell ..." He shivered. "Well, I'll spare you my description of that. You all don't have barbeque pits up here, anyway."
My stomach churned. Good thing I'd been too nervous to eat this morning.
"But the saddest part," he continued, "was that in death he was hunched over in a seated position — the very picture of a carbonized office drudge. Guy Van Hooten! Can you imagine it?"
Though they'd been college acquaintances in their Harvard days, Guy and Jackson were very different. Jackson was a worker bee, while Guy ... wasn't. "Why was he here so early?" I wondered aloud. The only time I'd seen Guy in the office so early was one morning last summer when he'd stayed overnight at the office, drinking. Maybe that had been the case this morning, too.
"That was my very thought," Jackson said. "'It can't be he,' I told myself when the firemen informed me that there was a man in Guy's office. I was the first one here, you know, although a neighbor had already called the fire department. A few windows had broken — the heat, I guess — and smoke was pouring out of the place. I didn't go in, but I never dreamt there was anyone inside the building. Especially Guy. Otherwise I would've attempted to save him."
The claim struck me as more boastful than true, but who doesn't dream of acting heroically? Especially when the danger of actually being called upon to do so has passed. "It must have been awful for you."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Murder in Midtown"
Copyright © 2019 Elizabeth Bass.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"During all my months of preparation for this moment, I'd assumed I was exceptional. An original. Yet the sound of a hundred pencils scritching against paper filled the hall, and all those pencils were pushed by the hands of women with the same dream." I started this book not realizing it was the second in a series but enjoyed it so much, I'm going back to read the first one! Set in 1913 New York City, Louise Faulk (who assisted in solving a murder in book 1) takes the police civil service exam, a radical move at a time when the women's suffrage movement is just getting off the ground. When she returns to her job as a secretary for a publishing house later that day, she finds the building has gone up in flames, killing one of her bosses. Louise takes it upon herself to investigate the crime, much the chagrin of her "friend" Detective Muldoon, chasing down suspects that run the gamut from her co-workers to the local crime boss. Liz Freeland peppers this murder mystery with lots of fun details and colorful characters, like Louise's chorus girl roommate, her novelist aunt, the deceased's aviation-obsessed brother as well as real historical figures like Al Jolson. It's a fast, fun read and I'm excited to revisit Louise in the first in the series, "Murder in Greenwich Village." I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley and Kensington Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Murder in Midtown presents a new heroine called Louise Faulk. Louise has a secret in her past which affects the way she sees the world. In 1913, Louise took the police civil service exam to fulfill a dream she has of becoming a policewoman. Earlier Louise was involved in a murder investigation and had aided Detective Frank Muldoon in the arrest of a violent criminal which was the start of her ambition. Agatha Christie was 23 years old in 1913 which fact might be of interest because Murder in Midtown takes place across the Atlantic in New York and is of the same ilk as an Agatha Christie cozy mystery. Louise’s current job at a publishing house came through her Aunt’s connection with one of the partners, Ogden Chesney. Louise is Guy Van Hooten's secretary; Guy, the son of the other partner, is found dead in his office after a fire burned down the building. It's not long before rumors begin. "Could Guy have been murdered?" I like the exciting cast of many, many characters and thus many suspects. Guy Van Hooten’s mother Edith is the equivalent of privilege and aristocracy in England. She will do anything to prevent the sullying of the family name with a scandal. Guy’s brother Hugh has a vested interest in the publishing house business as do various employees of the publishing house. Louise has good friends with intricate relationships. Aunt Irene has amazing connections and convenes weekly social gatherings attended by a host of people. Aunt Irene’s Thursday evening get-togethers provide a convenient venue for some of the characters. I admire Louise’s character also; in common, with other female investigator’s she is fearless in tracking down each suspect and frequently places herself at risk. She is spirited, witty and occasionally foolhardy. She is empathetic towards many of the characters in the story, and they respond readily to her. As a result, she makes progress in tracking down each suspect, weeding out the ones that do not feel right, and making intuitive leaps as to whom to pursue next. We follow right along because the book is easy to read, and we never seem to run out of villains. The book lightly touches on some of the social issues of the period by including a mixed marriage couple. The husband has never introduced his wife to anyone at the publishing house. A surprise famous entertainer who was born in 1886 gets embroiled in the story. The plot includes a nightclub owner who is a money lender, operates a gambling caper, and has people killed if they run afoul of him. Will Louise retain the upper hand with this unpleasant character? Murder in Midtown accurately depicts the pitfalls of Louise’s first few weeks as a new police officer. She gets to look after the thieves, the crazies and the prostitutes from the streets of New York, in the claustrophobic basement of the police station. Louise finds out that her duty roster includes making coffee for the policemen who come in after their beat. All the guys try making fun of her, but she quickly learns how to stand up for herself, and her investigative talents come to her aid. Murder in Midtown is professionally edited, I found no errors in grammar or spelling. I rate the book 4 out 5 stars based on a good plot, with well-drawn characters and a cozy appeal. I did not find anything to dislike. I recommend the book to mystery lovers, people who like the 1920s era, people who love easy reading, and young adults. It might not suit people who like international thrillers, blo
Start with: I Loved It! In 1913 New York City things were different, but not people. Louise was lucky that she skipped work that morning or she would have been the one to find the body of her boss in the fire ravaged building. Although her job no longer exists, her novelist aunt wants a typist and the other owner of the business wants her to find out who caused the fire and death. She is naturally motivated to do both, but things rapidly become very complicated. Just when things couldn't seem to get more muddled, she finds out that she passed the Civil Service exam and is now a fledgling policewoman assigned to the night shift at the jail! A decidedly convoluted tale with an abundance of red herrings and plot twists as well as some fascinating characters. This one is a winner! I requested and received a free ebook copy from Kensington Books via NetGalley. Thank you!
October 1913 and Louise Faulk has just sat the civil examination to become a Police Constable. Only to discover that her place of employment, publishers Van Hooten and McChesney, has gone up in flames. While friend Detective Frank Muldroon officially investigates the fire and the killer of the body discovered inside, Louise is employed to do her own investigation. Easily read as a standalone story this was an enjoyable well-written cosy mystery with a varied cast of mainly likeable characters, obviously there are always villains.