Review - Taken At Night, Christa A. Ludlow
It is particularly gratifying to see a recent increase in historical crime fiction with capable and independent female central characters, with good working relationships with the men who support them. Not only does this give authors the opportunity to expand on the period in which they are setting their books, it's also providing an increasing glimpse into the ridiculous limitations and restrictions placed on women in the past.
In TAKEN AT NIGHT, author Christa A. Ludlow has a central protagonist who is working as a photographer in 1900's Sydney. A difficult time to start a new business because of the increasing worry of bubonic plague, and a difficult time for women in general in the never-ending struggle for firstly equal rights, and then recognition for their work and professionalism. Paired with Detective Fergus Blair, Spencer finds herself drawn into the investigation of a passenger gone missing from a quarantined ship, whilst simultaneously pondering the efforts of another photographer who seems to be lurking amongst the children of the slums of Sydney.
The historical aspects of this novel are absolutely fascinating. The difference between current day The Rocks in Sydney and what it was in the 1900's is described well, with a real sense of the deprivation and desperation in the area. Because the central character of Spencer is a woman attempting to make her own way in business, connected to but not necessarily involved with the Suffragette cause, the politics is overt and the author's viewpoint on the position of women in that time obvious (understandably). Having said that, there's a tendency sometimes to hammer that point home a little too much, losing the momentum of the investigative / crime elements along the way.
The pairing of Spencer and Blair fits well, is unforced and seems to be preparing the basis for a good investigative team. Whilst there's nothing known about a potential followup, there's enough in TAKEN AT NIGHT, to think they both deserve another outing.
The year is 1900, and photographer Beatrix Spencer has just opened her photographic studio in the bustling colonial metropolis of Sydney. But it is a turbulent time to start a new business. A deadly outbreak of bubonic plague is threatening the city, causing public panic, putting ships into quarantine and causing unrest on the wharves. The colony is preparing to send soldiers to the Boer War. Women are struggling to gain rights and recognition.
When a mysterious passenger disappears from a quarantined ship, Beatrix is drawn into the investigation led by Detective Fergus Blair, who has secrets of his own. Against a backdrop of disease, politics and violence, Fergus and Beatrix find that their city has an underworld that is more dangerous than either of them realized. And somewhere, another more sinister photographer is at work...