Anne Louise Bannon, "Death of an Heiress" (Healcroft House, 2022)


Los Angeles in the 1870s is not the sprawling city we know today. A rapidly growing pueblo of perhaps 7,000 residents, it features vineyards and ranchos, worked by an army of transient men as likely to shoot one another up in bars as stagger home after a heavy night’s drinking. Although ethnically diverse, it is riven by racism, and its relatively small female population is relegated either to the home or to its brothels. When the son of Robert Gaines, one of the pueblo’s wealthier citizens, sets out to rob his sister of her lawful inheritance, he raises eyebrows, but even the town judge has to admit that the son’s behavior is entirely within the law.

In this simultaneously repressive and unbridled town, Maddie Wilcox stands out. As a widow who owns her dead husband’s vineyard and rancho, she has a degree of freedom that most women lack (although Maddie takes care not to defy convention too obviously). And as a licensed doctor, her profession takes her all over Los Angeles as she visits patients in need of care. So when Lavina Gaines, that young woman whose inheritance is now filling her brother’s pockets, dies of strangulation, Maddie sets out to seek justice for her friend. This is, after all, the third suspicious death in the pueblo since the court ruling against Lavina, and Maddie has been called in to assess the circumstances of all three.

This is the fourth Old Los Angeles mystery by Anne Louise Bannon, and readers may want to begin with the first, Death of the Zanjero, before working their way through the series. But even if you start here, you’ll enjoy plunging into Maddie Wilcox’s world. These are fast-moving, well-paced mysteries that often incorporate actual historical incidents and personages and open a vista on Los Angeles that we seldom see.

Anne Louise Bannon is an author, journalist, former TV critic, and blogger. In addition to the Old Los Angeles series, she has written the Freddie and Kathy mystery series, set in the 1920s; the contemporary Operation Quickline series; several stand-alone novels; and, with Serita Stevens, Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons. She lives in southern California, where she and her husband make wine from their home-grown grapes.

C. P. Lesley is the author of two historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible and three other novels. Her latest novel, Song of the Sinner, appeared in January 2022.

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C. P. Lesley

C. P. Lesley is the author of two historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible and four other novels. Her latest book, The Merchant's Tale, co-written with P.K. Adams, appeared in November 2023.

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