It’s quite difficult to not be immediately intrigued by a female investigator running across Long Beach pier at the turn of the century with a man’s head in a bucket. Thus begins the second major adventure for Anna Blanc in The Woman in the Camphor Trunk. As a Los Angeles police matron with moxie and a possible death wish, Anna is no longer a shining fixture in high society after turning down a forced marriage proposal, solving a murder, and standing up to her wealthy father. Now broke and recently split from her sweetheart and coworker Joe Singer, Anna is desperate to find the killer of her childhood friend, a white missionary to Chinatown named Elizabeth. Even on the best of days a murder is bad, but this death could lead to an all out race war due to the already tenuous relationship of White and Chinese residents of 1908 Los Angeles.
Anna Blanc gives the infamous character Phryne Fisher a run for her money as far as female sleuths go; she’s smart, sassy, and refuses to give up even when her safety is at risk. Unlike many lady sleuths, Anna is broke and has to make her own way without wealthy parents to fall back on. Author Jennifer Kincheloe does an amazing job of describing Los Angeles in 1908, going so far as to lift from actual history with a few changes to make it her own. There’s even a detailed description at the back of the book of how the history is recorded. The characters are utterly likable, even when they make foolish mistakes. I found myself rooting for Anna, even as she entered situations where I found myself going “girl, run.” Her wide-eyed innocence and self confidence is admirable, especially as she is face to face with a crime boss.
For extra fun, the audio version is read by Moira Quirk and is a real treat for audiobook fans. Her inflections are perfect for a former wealthy society girl learning to live on her own for the first time. You can sense Anna’s fear, delight, and utter irritation with Joe Singer.
The Woman in the Camphor Trunk is engaging and simply divine. It is available now.