California’s Silver Mistress greeted him with a lush, sensuous embrace. She was a late riser who generally left at noon, returning in the evening like a slow crashing wave rolling relentlessly towards the port. Her touch was cool and it settled around his bones. He had missed her caress.
I have never been to San Francisco and so have not experienced the “Silver Mistress” myself. From all reports, she is alive and well. We are left in no doubt that Atticus James Riot, our main character, has missed her.
Sabrina Flynn does not try to romanticize a city that in the latter half of 1800’s was both charming and gruesome. Perhaps much like any large city of that and our time. However, San Francisco had a unique condition that brought money to the pockets of any man greedy and corrupt enough. The Ravenwood Detective Agency had fought to end the Tongs of Chinatown and child-sexual-slavery.
Opium and slavery were lucrative businesses, protected by the very men who lived in luxury, lording over an empire of lives from high hills that were impossible to see from the depths of depravity.
Like many of us who have traumatic memories, Riot wished to rid himself of all reminders of such past events. But the past never changes, nor did AJ’s natural inclinations. Temptation to try just one more case proved impossible to resist when Tim presented him with the following mystery:
“On Tuesday, December 26th, shortly after her husband left for Oakland, Isobel Kingston told the staff that she intended to visit her family in Sausalito. She took a hack from her home on Nob Hill. The fare was paid to Market, but the hackman said she exited just short of the ferry building. The intersection was jammed by an accident. The hackman thought she was in a hurry.
“Of all the travelers, ferry crew, ticket counters, and dockhands we questioned, Smith managed to find two witnesses, a mother and daughter, who placed her on the 9:00 ferry. None of the other passengers could confirm or deny this. Mrs. Kingston never arrived at her family’s home. And no one realized she was missing until the next morning when her father, Marcus Amsel, received a ransom demand.”
From the Ashes consists of two time-lines. One of them follows Riot’s investigation into Isobel’s disappearance. It begins Tuesday, January 2, 1900. The other time-line begins Tuesday, December 26, 1899 – Seven days earlier and follows the disappearance of Isobel (Amsel) Kingston. Atticus and Isobel are the characters we get to know well. All others are there to build the story. Both of them are complex and the kind of people I like. I love Isobel’s life-long fight against conventions, as seen in the description her father gives of a picture taken when she was about 10 years old. Around the turn of the century, women in San Francisco were being squeezed into society’s (men’s) idea of what constituted proper women.
In a sense I identify with Isobel. Like her, I have found many of society’s (whether mormon or secular) expectations of how girls/women are supposed to behave ridiculous. We have both tried hard to stay true to ourselves. Society doesn’t like that. Being born and bred to wealth meant that Isobel’s parents could afford to send her to a Finishing School in Dresden. A finishing school is simply a school whose goal is to change girls into obedient, complacent and unquestioning women.
After an interesting interlude in Europe, Isobel comes home, settles down, marries and disappears. Really? Where to? Why? Find out. It’s all there in From the Ashes. Definitely recommended.
I was given a copy of From the Ashes by the author