Circle of Dishonor

Written by Gwen Mayo
Review by Laura Staley

Nessa Donnelly has been masquerading as her brother for fourteen years. It’s a deception that could get her hanged in 1880s Lexington, Kentucky, but one that she needs to maintain if she has any hope of finding his killer.

Trained as a Civil War spy by Pinkerton’s, Nessa now runs her own detective agency. She is called in by the madam of an expensive brothel to find the killer of an anti-vice crusader, discovered naked and murdered in her foyer. No one admits to knowing how he got there, but the police suspect that he died at the hands of a young woman, Belle Brezing, who works at the bordello. Belle is also one of the few people who knows Nessa’s secret.

As Nessa tries to unravel the complicated threads of this mystery, involving politics and prostitutes, missing policemen and murdered judges, new-money merchants protecting their social positions and former slaves leaving for better lives in Kansas, she begins to suspect that the Knights of the Golden Circle, the secret Confederate society responsible for her brother’s death, is involved. Now this mystery is personal.

Mayo’s depiction of late-19th century Kentucky is fascinating, and the mystery is ably handled. The author has a knack for the telling detail, giving us a picture of a society struggling to recover from the consequences of the Civil War. Recommended.