Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Review: Woman of Ill Fame by Erika Mailman


Looking for a better life, Nora Simms sails from the East Coast to gold rush San Francisco with a plan for success: to strike it rich by trading on her good looks. But when a string of murders claims several of her fellow “women of ill fame,” Nora grows uneasy with how closely linked all of the victims are to her. Even her rise to the top of her profession and a move to the fashionable part of town don’t shelter her from the danger, and she must distinguish friend from foe in a race to discover the identity of the killer.

November 11, 2013 (e-book publication date) | ASIN: B00GM1VHV2

My Review

When I was first asked if I was interested in being part of the virtual book tour for Woman of Ill Fame I have to admit I was a little hesitant.  Historical novels featuring a prostitute as the central character have never really been my thing.  However, since I enjoyed Erika Mailman's other historical novel, The Witches Trinity, I thought I would give Woman of Ill Fame a try, and I am glad I did! 

Set in Gold Rush-era San Francisco, the heroine of this novel is Nora Simms, a free-spirited prostitute who sails from New England to California, where she hopes to make her fortune.  Though she is the victim of theft almost immediately upon her arrival in San Francisco, Nora doesn't let the loss of all her worldly possessions deter her from her achieving dreams.  Determined to establish herself as one of San Francisco's premier prostitutes, Nora takes steps to improve herself so she can find employment in a high-end parlour house.  The murders of several "woman of ill-fame" with whom Nora had contact serve to make her doubly committed to finding herself a more reputable and safe place to practice her trade.  But Nora's realization of her dream doesn't provide her with any greater safety, as the murders continue and, this time, they are even closer to home.  Can Nora uncover the murderer's identify before she becomes his next victim? 

In Woman of Ill Fame Erika Mailman does a great job of bringing mid-19th century San Francisco to life.  Mailman's descriptions give readers a flavour for the roughness of the town, a place where just about anything goes as people aspire to make their fortunes. While I enjoyed the novel's setting, it is the heroine that truly makes this book shine.  In Nora Simms, Erika Mailman has created a character who readers will immediately fall in love with and who will stay with them long after the final page has been read.  Nora is a kind-hearted soul who always seeks to help others, especially those less fortunate than she, expecting nothing in return for doing so.  She is unashamed of her chosen profession and seeks to get ahead on her own merits rather than accepting handouts from friends.  Nora's also smart, sassy, and laugh out loud funny.  Her relationships with Mehitabel, her first landlord, and Abe, a former miner turned stable hand, showcase Nora's tender side.  While I guessed the true identity of the murderer fairly early in the novel, following Nora as she attempted to uncover the truth proved entertaining and suspenseful nonetheless. 

All in all, Woman of Ill Fame is a highly entertaining novel that features a truly memorable heroine, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to any fan of historical fiction.  

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a digital copy of this novel as part of Erika Mailman's virtual book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Be sure to check out the tour schedule here for links to other reviews and giveaway opportunities.

About the Author

Erika Mailman is the author of The Witch’s Trinity, a Bram Stoker finalist and a San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book, and Woman of Ill Fame, a Pushcart Press Editor’s Book Award nominee. While writing The Witch’s Trinity, she learned she was the descendant of a woman accused twice of witchcraft in the decades predating Salem.

For more information please visit Erika Mailman’s website and blog.

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