Murder In the Haunted Chamber (Sarah Kennecott and Jack Harden Mysteries Book 2)

Written by Bill LeFurgy
Review by Laura C. Stevenson

Baltimore, Maryland, 1910. At three in the morning, the ghost of Sarah Kennecott’s sister shows her a young woman lying in a hotel bed. Dead, the ghost says, and Sarah must find the murderer. Sarah, a medical doctor and forensic pathologist, doesn’t believe in ghosts. But soon, when she is tasked with finding the missing secretary of a famous visiting spiritual medium, she recognizes the picture of the secretary as the murdered woman the ghost showed her. She consults her detective partner, Jack Harden; he agrees they should take the case. Together, they find themselves investigating not just the original murder but two puzzling others. The stakes are high: soon, Jack faces murder threats of his own and powerful Baltimore politicians threaten to revoke Sarah’s medical license.

The search for the murderer proceeds in chapters that alternate between Sarah’s discoveries and Jack’s adventures, thus allowing LeFurgy to portray 1910 Baltimore from its corrupt underworld to its high society. The portrait of the city, through which night trains speed without signals, automobiles collide with horse-drawn vehicles because there are no stop signs, brothels flourish, and child labor is common, is based on extensive research and adds power to the plot.

The book, like LeFurgy’s earlier Baltimore mystery Into the Suffering City, revolves around Jack and Sarah’s unusual partnership. Jack, an intelligent lower-class man tortured by what today would be recognized as PTSD, is uncultured and defensive about Sarah’s society background. Sarah, though often irritated by Jack’s loutishness, is miserable in society; today she would be recognized as being on the autism spectrum. While her portrayal relies on Asperger’s stereotypes challenged by recent research, her increasing self-confidence makes her a sympathetic heroine, and the unlikely couple’s gradually-expanding trust and care for each other adds romantic interest to the complex mystery.