No Comfort for the Lost: A Mystery of Old San Francisco. Nancy Herriman. New American Library/Penguin Group (USA). August 2015. 384 pp. ISBN#: 9780451474896.
British-born Celia Davis became a nurse and served in the Crimean War, a womanly career frowned upon by late 1800 society. Now Celia has become the caretaker of her half-Chinese cousin, Barbara, and has opened a free clinic where she cares for anyone in need. Her concerns compel her to visit even the ill Chinese prostitutes in Old San Francisco, acts that further ostracize her from “decent” society. In 1867 there is a huge and growing anti-Chinese segment of society that is part prejudicial and part fear as the Chinese laborers are accused of taking jobs that would normally go to Caucasian workers. So the story opens with Celia’s visit to the bedside of a very physically abused and ill Chinese prostitute. The setting is starkly described and we quickly come to understand Celia’s compassionate attitude for those living in such poor conditions. Later she will become involved with Li Sha, a young woman who escaped this way of life and whose horrific murder becomes the source of Celia’s quest to find the killer.
In her initial appearance at police headquarters, Celia makes clear her assertive demand to see Li Sha’s body will not be denied. While most of the police she encounters dislike her attitude, Detective Nicholas Greaves finds her feisty attitude amusing. They quickly begin a prickly yet close bond in their investigation into Li Sha’s death. They also have painful backgrounds of loss that they slowly reveal in their chats, a force that compels them to care more for others and which also places each in considerable danger!
Their inquiries bring them into the seedier side of Old San Francisco, including Chinatown and the Barbary Coast area, where secrets are gradually revealed that involve smuggling, prostitution, gangs, bribery, and the political machinations that ruled the City and protected the guilty from discovery and prosecution – at least until Celia and Nick aggressively pursue their case. Their insistence will bring both sleuths close to death and the mounting threats and attacks make for riveting scenes! The anti-Chinese riots, attacks and fires are based on actual historical facts!
No Comfort For the Lost… is fine historical mystery reading with surprises at every turn (not spoiled by above description) and an exposure of a social atrocity within the late 19th Century California area. Very finely written and highly recommended reading!!!