The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe

As a teen, Anna had indeed broken in to drink the communion wine, because she needed the extra holiness.

I've not been so madly in love with a heroine in a long time as I am with Anna Blanc. I gushed about her in my review of Kincheloe's first book, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, and this second historical mystery featuring our plucky, daring, poised, naive, sweet, reckless girl was so satisfying and exciting.


The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe
Seventh Street Books, 2017
Copy from my public library & audiobook review copy from the author
Historical Fiction Reading Challenge


I tend to drop serial historical mysteries because at a certain point it feels like the interpersonal stuff with the main characters gets frozen at a certain point to ensure that readers can drop into new releases without wondering what they missed. Possibly this could happen with Kincheloe's series if it goes on for ten more books but so far, I'm really impressed with how much had changed for Anna in this book.

The events of the first book are deeply reflected in Anna's life in this book, and I loved it. The book blurb gives a little away, so I won't recap, but I will say that Anna's decisions aren't waved off in favor of keeping her a socialite-with-a-secret. Her secret came out in a big way in the first book, and Anna is now disowned and struggling to make ends meet on her police matron's salary.

The historical detail in this book was as rich and detailed as The Secret Life of Anna Blanc; with Anna's sheltered life, there's much she doesn't know, and it allows the reader to learn with her. Kincheloe does it deftly, too, so it's not one painful info dump after another; it feels more organic and natural. The setting for this book is Chinatown, with the discovery of a dead woman stuffed in a trunk. It's a horrifying murder that threatens to unleash greater violence, from the criminal gangs that run opium and gambling dens to white mobs motivated by racist fears, and Anna and the police are frantic to quietly solve things without setting off any riots.

What was most interesting slash torturous for me in this read was Kincheloe's handling of Anna's romance with Detective Joe Singer. I don't think it gives anything away to say that Anna is firm -- as she was in the previous book -- that she doesn't want to be under the thumb of any man, even one she's wildly fond of; and as a result, she rebuffs Joe. While I hated this, I also admire it, because Anna is so consistent (even when she's not), and it made for an interesting secondary thread throughout the story. (I've been so deep in romance novels, it was painful for me when things didn't resolve with a neat HEA but when I took a breath, I appreciated that, too!)

I alternated between reading this book and listening to the audiobook. As with the first book, this one is read by Moira Quirk and it is marvelous. Quirk just is Anna but she also does the other characters -- including love interest Joe -- beautifully. Now that I'm listening to more audiobooks, I can appreciate what Quirk does well: her pacing is great (no need to speed up the book), her accents and male voices aren't cringe-y, and she's consistent in her characterizations. She just perfectly captures Anna's naivete and compassion.

I knew I was a fan after the first book; I'm now an Anna Blanc devotee after this one. (I've already finished the third book so now I am a slavish fangirl and can't wait for the fourth book to come out!)

Comments

  1. I already have the first book on my wishlist, it sounds as if I need to bump it up the list and add this one too.

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    Replies
    1. All three books in this series are marvelous -- I've reread them already. SO GOOD!

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  2. Oh shoot, another series for my list. I like the setting and the time period -- lots of opportunities for mysteries to be solved. Glad the audiobooks are good. I love the cover too! Off to see if my library has them. :)

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    Replies
    1. I know, I have series fatigue but OMG this one is really so delightful, I'm excited. As it is, I already miss Anna in my life -- the 4th book is in the works but not out yet.

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