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Sleight of Heart

267 pages3 hours


Poised between rigid Edwardian culture and ragtime experimentation, 1910 Los Angeles was rife with dark underpinnings. Industrialists clashed with labor; rumor spread by rivals precipitated bank runs; rapists and murderers preyed on the unwary. News reporters frequently took the LAPD to task, especially over the department’s treatment of women.

In response to such criticism, the police chief appoints Margaret Morehouse as one of the nation’s first policewomen with arrest powers. Detectives Seamus McManus and Charlie Tyson enlist Margaret’s help after discovering a corpse in an alley behind Pantages Theatre. She interrogates a songstress who reveals the body might be a magician’s missing assistant. Suspicion falls on impresario Alexander Pantages and Marcos the Magician, who’d left the show in a jealous rage.

Although Margaret’s husband, Edmund Morehouse, is unusually supportive for his time, complications abound. His nephew Leland failed to notify the police when his estranged wife vanished at an air meet. Several months later, the young man brings a ransom note and his wife’s severed finger to the Morehouses and asks for help.

Margaret decides to tackle the murder first. The Boyle Heights rapist and L. A. Times explosion sidetrack McManus and Tyson. Margaret becomes Marcos’s assistant. Seduced by magic and the man, she travels to Chicago to test the new “sawing-a-woman-in-half” illusion.

When Margaret returns to Los Angeles, she risks safety and reputation to clear Leland after the spoiled young scion is placed under house arrest. Margaret identifies victims, motives, and murderers in the company of her detective colleagues and Harold Cushman, a former Pinkerton agent. Before the tale ends, one of these allies reveals secrets darker than the cases they’ve solved.

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