The Katie Dugan Case

Written by William Francis
Review by Ellen Keith

Widower detective David Drummond has returned to his home and job in Wilmington, Delaware in October 1892, following two months with his son and his family after the loss of his wife. There is no easing back into work for him. He’s assigned the murder case of Katie Dugan and is partnered with Adelia Bern, the first woman detective on the Wilmington police force. Bern had been a Pinkerton detective in Chicago before moving to Delaware, and Drummond is one of the few men to accord her the respect she deserves.

Francis has a great love for Delaware’s history, which he imparts through his protagonist. As Bern is a newcomer to the state, there’s an excuse for the exposition, but it’s exposition just the same. The structure of the book is somewhat choppy—it’s a whopping 79 chapters, and each chapter is short, often ending on an unfinished note, with the next chapter picking up in another place. This may be because there is no end of suspects in the stabbing death of Katie Dugan, whose autopsy reveals that she was pregnant. Drummond lights on suspect after suspect, making enemies in the process. Among them is the powerful DuPont family. Drummond connects Dugan’s murder to the suicide of Louis DuPont, but this famous event and family is shoehorned in a bit too late in the tale to be effective.

Francis expertly captures the tension between career politicians and detectives like Drummond and Bern who care about justice, but there are too many disparate threads to make the book effective as a whole.