Death at the Falls (A Gilded Age Mystery)
In 1890, Prudence MacKenzie, one of the first women in New York to pass the bar exam, and Geoffrey Hunter, her partner in an investigative law firm, travel to Niagara Falls at the request of a friend of Prudence’s aunt. She wants Prudence to represent Rowan Adderly, a young woman about to come of age, who is due to inherit sizable properties and whose grandmother is disputing the inheritance because she insists Rowan is illegitimate. Prudence and Geoffrey discover an attempt to poison Rowan. Meanwhile, daredevil Crazy Louie Whiting is determined to be the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive. He sends a test barrel, supposedly containing a sheep, over the falls, but when the barrel is opened, the body of a man who worked for land surveyors is found inside. Prudence and Geoffrey look for a connection between this death and the attempt on their client, and find a web of intrigue, corruption, and bribery among local officials.
Although this is the seventh in a series of mysteries, it easily stands on its own. Prudence and Geoffrey are likeable characters, with obvious feelings for each other, even though they have not yet declared their love. There are some references to events from earlier books, but nothing that would spoil them for people who are new to the series. Simpson does a wonderful job evoking the world of Niagara Falls in the 1890s as the land is being developed both for tourism and for industries, while many in the community want to preserve its natural beauty. This conflict between development and preservation is central to the action. It is a time of major technological innovations such as the use of electricity, when people want to harness the power of the falls. Highly recommended.