Death by Early Electric Automobile
I’ve seen a meme over the years that suggests modern murder methods that mystery authors could start employing in their books. Turns out one of those – death by electric car – was actually used in Murder on Madison Square, the twenty-fifth Gaslight Mystery from Victoria Thompson.
As the series title suggests, this is a historical series. When it started, the characters were living in the 1890’s, but this book opens in November of 1900 just after the Presidential election has ended. That little bit of news is the only historical event that pops up in the story, mostly the historical setting is just a backdrop to the action.
If you haven’t found the series yet, it features retired NYPD detective Frank Malloy and his wife, Sarah. Frank left the force when he suddenly became a millionaire, but he’s opened a detective agency since the life of the idle rich didn’t appeal to him.
Over the last few books, we’ve heard a lot about automobiles of the day as Frank has been talked into buying one by his friend and partner in the detective agency, Gino. Frank has slowly come to enjoy having this modern contraption, so when he hears about an auto show being held at Madison Square Gardens, he and Gino are excited to go. Every manufacturer of autos is there, including Alvin Bing, who has invested in a company that is making electronic cars. He is trying to sell the crowd on them even though the battery life is very small. Frank enjoys talking to him.
However, the next night, someone kills Mr. Bing, running over him with one of his own electric automobiles. His wife had wanted a divorce from the man, and she hires Frank to find out what really happened so she doesn’t get accused of a crime she didn’t commit. Can Frank solve the murder?
I know I gave a very Frank-centric plot teaser, but as always, this investigation is a group effort, with Sarah, Frank, Gino, and Maeve, a young lady employed by Sarah and Frank, all contributing. The book switches points of view, usually between Sarah and Frank, although we do get some scenes from Gino and Maeve as well. These switches always are easy to identify and help further the story.
And I love the four of them together. It’s hard to remember the books where Gino and Maeve weren’t such an integral part of the story at this point. I will say I thought Gino and Maeve’s potential relationship took a step back here, but maybe that was just me misremembering where the last book left them. Anyway, the four characters obviously care about each other, and some of their interactions are quite fun.
It's a nice counterpoint to the plot, which is definitely a darker one for the series. As always, there are some good suspects and the plot is well thought out, so we move quickly from one plot point to another, making it so I never wanted to put the book down. I did figure out one particular plot point very early because it was obvious, and I was frustrated waiting for the characters to catch up. Still, I had no idea who the killer was until the climax.
And yes, electric was one of the means of powering an automobile back in the early days of the auto industry. The author’s note at the end explains a bit more of the history behind the story, which I found fascination.
It was wonderful to spend time with the characters even if this wasn’t the strongest mystery in the series. Fans will enjoy solving Murder on Madison Square.
Be sure to check out the rest of the Gaslight Mysteries.