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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Chinawoman's Chance: Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries, Volume 1 is an historical sleuth mystery written by Jim Musgrave. It was 1884, and San Francisco, even more than the rest of the country, was embroiled in a harsh and racist reaction to the recent flow of Chinese immigrants to the United States. The Chinese themselves were caught between the machinations of the ruling Manchu in their home country and Leland Stanford and the other railroad barons, who jointly conspired to keep the immigrants impoverished and bound to unfair contracts. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 made the unfair treatment of those new immigrants into law.
The Captain of Detectives for the First District of the San Francisco Police Department, Isaiah Lees, had a new case to solve. The body of a young white woman had been found in a small bungalow in Chinatown. The killer had flayed every bit of flesh and organs from her body. Mary McCarthy was an orphan, who had been a streetwalker until she had become a student at the Methodist Mission for Wayward Women. She had recently left the mission, however, and had been seen with George Kwong, son of one of the wealthy Chinese men who were leaders of the Six Companies. George and his father, Andrew Kwong, ran The Oriental, a newspaper with backing from the Methodist Church in San Francisco. A witness reported that George Kwong claimed to have taken a picture of Mary’s body. Now he was the city’s prime suspect for the murder, but George had been in love with Mary and would never have dreamed of hurting her.
Jim Musgrave’s historical murder mystery is a fascinating look at San Francisco in the late nineteenth century. His sleuthing partners, Clara Foltz and Captain Isaiah Lees, are real historical persons, and following the two as they work together in a sometimes uneasy alliance is grand entertainment. A sensitive reader won’t be able to help considering the racism that is at the heart of this story and comparing it with the current attitude toward immigrants and women in the country today. I found myself saddened to think that in many ways we’ve not gone very much farther in our treatment of others, in the disregard of equal rights and fear of diversity. Musgrave’s story is marvelous! He gives the reader a wide range of possible suspects to consider and makes San Francisco of 1884 come to life. I especially loved how he brought together the strong and capable characters of Captain Lees, Clara Foltz, Detective Sergeant Eduard Vanderheiden and Ah Toy. They are a grand team. I was quite pleased to find that Musgrave has written a second book in the series, The Spiritualist Murders, and am looking forward to reading it. Chinawoman's Chance: Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries, Volume 1 is most highly recommended.