1842, Broadway, New York City, and Phineas T Barnum has opened his American Museum. A museum showcasing the attractions, wonders and, well, freaks that Barnum was renowned for and his sister (admittedly a fictional one) Evangeline “Evie” Barnum takes care of it, and its inhabitants. She has secrets of her own to bury and this seems the ideal place to do exactly that. But some things can’t be buried forever.
An old friend showing up for help is the last thing that she wants, but when that friend is found brutally murdered inside the museum, and suspicion falls on the so-called “Lizard Man”, Evie is determined to seek the truth behind the death. But she has no idea where her search is going to lead – and how much trouble that she will end up in…
Casey Daniels is not an author I’ve come across before – there’s a series of ten books, the Pepper Martin mysteries, but they don’t quite seem my sort of thing – but this is the first of the Evie Barnum mysteries (I’m presuming it’s a series) and I’ve an interest in Barnum and his flim-flam, so I thought I’d give it a try – thanks to Severn House for the review copy, by the way.
It’s an interesting tale, with snapshots of parts of New York life in the nineteenth century helping to bring the narrative to life. Evie is an interesting enough lead, although I was hoping for more time to be spent in the confines of the Museum itself. The story quickly moves away from that location, and from Barnum himself, which was a little disappointing, and it does seems that Evie stumbles by chance into the one location that is going to help her solve the case, but, while not the museum itself, the parts of New York life are intriguing.
Yes, one character couldn’t be more obviously a villain unless he had a monocle and a moustache to twirl, but Daniels does have a trick up her sleeve there, and one aspect of the ending is… odd, dramatically speaking, but this runs along nicely enough. It’s not a classically clued mystery – or if it is, I missed a whole bunch of clues – but it’s Well Worth A Look for fans of historical US crime.
Smoke and Mirrors is out in the UK on 10th July 2017.