Genre: Historical Mystery
Word Count: 84,000
Query:VESPERTINE CLEMENT lives above her uncle's book shop during the San Francisco gold rush and tries to avoid a life of professional domesticity. MRS. ADLER, a director of the Women's Benevolent Society where Vespertine works as a notary, summons her and delivers the news, unless she can prove the innocence of a fallen woman accused of murder, the society will fold.
Vespertine, accompanied by the amicably corrupt SERGEANT CUINN of the police, sets out to solve the murder before her job disappears. The coroner doesn't think a woman should examine the corpse. The victim's family has gathered a mob to see justice done by means fair or foul. Her uncle wants her to settle down and start a family.
She concludes that poison killed the victim, not his wounds. Using a chemistry textbook from her uncle’s shop, and some glass tubing borrowed from the dye makers, she arranges a public test for poison with an audience in the police station. The test is a complete failure.
She has only four days to start again, protect the society, and save a woman from the gallows.
First 250 Words:
They played a farce. Vespertine asked questions and her visitor lied. The important part was to finish before anyone interrupted.
“Mr. Jackson, of Ablemarle County Virginia, emancipated you in March of 1852?” Vespertine asked her visitor.
The woman stared, stupefied. No more than twenty-five, the sun and wind had battered her.
“Mr. Jackson freed you last March?” Vespertine tried again.
“Yes, Miss. In March.” The visitor’s companion reached over and patted her hand gently.
The three women sat close around a battered sea table wedged in an alcove. Fruit crates, stacked three high and brimming with papers, filled the space behind Vespertine. Cards tacked to the ends told of the contents. A curtain blocked the view from the hall and riffled each time one of her visitors brushed it with the back of her cap.
“Did he free others at the same time?”
The woman nodded. “Mr. Johnson died—”
“Mr. Jackson.” Vespertine corrected her.
The woman’s companion stiffened.
“Mr. Jackson died.” The woman wet her lips. “He didn’t have no children. No wife.”
“He manumitted— He freed all his slaves at that time?”
The visitor nodded. Her companion clutched her bag tight to her abdomen with both arms. Calm people didn’t come to The Women’s Benevolent Society, desperate people did. People with problems they could not solve themselves. The people with unsolvable legal problems came to see Vespertine.