Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Woman of Ill Fame by Erika Mailman

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Read: December 8, 2013

Looking for a better life, Nora Simms sails from the East Coast to gold rush San Francisco with a plan for success: to strike it rich by trading on her good looks. But when a string of murders claims several of her fellow “women of ill fame,” Nora grows uneasy with how closely linked all of the victims are to her. Even her rise to the top of her profession and a move to the fashionable part of town don’t shelter her from the danger, and she must distinguish friend from foe in a race to discover the identity of the killer.

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I freely admit that I approached Woman of Ill Fame with a certain degree of caution. Generally speaking I haven't had a lot of luck with gold rush era lit, but I'd also never heard of Erika Mailman and my unfamiliarity with the author didn't exactly help matters. Fingers crossed, I was hoping for a halfway decent read, but what I found was a captivatingly authentic tale of an enterprising soiled dove trying to make her way on the streets of San Francisco.

It's been my experience that most who tackle this subject rely on trite stereotypes and sap-saturated gimmicks to warm readers to their not so virtuous heroines - the hooker with a heart of gold, etc. and so on. What I liked about this piece though, was Mailman's refreshingly blunt approach to the world of eighteenth century prostitution. From the provocative tricks of the trade to the more mundane details of daily life in a society that looked down its nose at the ladies of the night, Mailman's realistic portrait of the profession really appealed to me.  

Another aspect I appreciated was the range of characters that populate these pages. San Francisco was a hub of activity in 1849 as people from all over the world flooded the port in hopes of finding their fortunes in the hills of California. Mailman not only recognized this fact, but took advantage of it and created a cast with a really diverse set of backgrounds, principles and personalities.

Finally, I have to applaud the mystery at the heart of this story. Crime rates during this period were exceptionally high so a string of murders is not in and of itself particularly interesting or original. It was absolutely imperative that Mailman do something more than recreate a violent crime wave. She needed to make it personal and here again I think she rose to the challenge, offering up a truly chilling series of events that keeps both her cast and her audience on their toes. 

A surprisingly engaging and creative fiction, Woman of Ill Fame is a well-balanced and highly enjoyable historic thriller. 

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And now today was a famous day in Nora history—November 3 in the Year of our Gold, 1849. I was sick as a pirate’s mother from all the grappling the boat did with the water, but the long voyage and the leaning over the ship’s side to donate all my dinners to the sea was worth it. Soon I’d be dipping my hands into the cold stream to pick up gold, without even getting out of bed: I’d let the men collect the shiny stuff, then I’d dig into their pockets and help myself. Call me a prospector of a different variety.
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Check out all the stops on Erika Mailman's Woman of ill fame virtual book tour


Monday, December 9
Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, December 10
Guest Post & Giveaway at HF Connection
Wednesday, December 11
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, December 12
Interview & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, December 13
Review at Historical Fiction Obsession
Monday, December 16
Review at A Book Geek
Review at Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, December 17
Review at Book of Secrets
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, December 18
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, December 19
Review at A Bookish Libraria
Friday, December 20
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader

2 comments:

Erika M said...

Thank you so much for the kind review, and for peppering your blog with so much "ill fame": giveaway, review, Q&A...you've been very generous. Happy Holidays and thanks!

The Flashlight Reader said...

You're welcome and thank you for sharing your work with me. :)