Victoria Thompson's Historical Mystery Series Evolves

This month Victoria Thompson's thirteenth installment of her long-running mystery series hits shelves, Murder on Sisters' Row. So we asked the author to give us a special look at the evolution of her series and the world of the Gaslight Mysteries!

When I started writing the Gaslight Mysteries, set 1890’s New York City, I had no idea that I would discover “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” What has surprised me most about the research I do for the series is that the problems people were dealing with back then are the same problems we’re dealing with today. In Murder on St. Mark’s Place, the murder victim is a young woman whose only sin was trying to find Mr. Right. In those days, young women had just started working outside the home for the first time in history and courtship rituals had suddenly changed to allow men and women to go places together, unchaperoned. The women would go to dangerous places to meet prospective husbands, dance houses where they could partner with eligible men who would buy them drinks. Sometimes they found the man of their dreams, and sometimes they ended up raped or murdered. Just like today.

In Murder in Little Italy and Murder in Chinatown, I talk about the problems new immigrants faced when they came to America. I especially enjoyed writing about the Italians because my own grandparents came to America from Italy in the early 1900’s. They faced exactly the same prejudices and criticisms that Latino immigrants face today from “native born” Americans, yet within one generation, their children were completely assimilated. Their grandchildren (my generation) can’t even speak Italian—the same pattern we’re seeing with modern Latino immigrants.

Murder on Lexington Avenue concerns the education of the Deaf and the controversy between those who believe the Deaf should only be taught to speak and to speech read and those who believe they should be taught American Sign Language. This controversy still rages today.

My new book, Murder on Sisters’ Row, deals with the changing philosophy of how best to help the poor among us. When midwife Sarah Brandt is summoned to deliver a baby in a house on Sisters’ Row, she is surprised to discover it is a brothel. When the new mother begs Sarah to help her escape with her baby, Sarah turns to one of the charities of the New York Charitable Organization Society for help. An even bigger surprise than finding herself in a brothel is learning how difficult it is for the poor to receive help from one of these organizations. The do-gooders who run them believe that too much assistance will make people lazy and that people who caused their own problems because of weak character aren’t deserving of help at all. This debate is also still raging today, with no solution in sight.

In the Gaslight Mysteries, you can step back into the world of Gilded Age New York where things were very different, yet very much the same as they are today.

- Victoria Thompson

You can pick up your own copy of the latest in the Gaslight Mysteries series, Murder on Sisters' Row in stores now!