Book Review: Devil by the Tail by Jeanne Matthews @JMmystery @DXVaros

Devil by the Tail
A Garnick & Paschal Mystery #1
Jeanne Matthews
D. X. Varos, July 2021
ISBN 978-1941072974
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

What’s a 20-something Union war widow to do in 1867? Start up her own detective agency with a former Reb POW, of course!

Quinn Sinclair, who uses the name Mrs. Paschal professionally, and her wryly observant partner Garnick get two cases on the same day – one to help a man prove he didn’t kill his wife, another to help a lawyer find reasonable doubt that his client killed her ex-lover’s new bride. As the detectives dig deeper, they unearth facts that tie the cases together in disturbing ways.

This tantalizing tale of 19th Century Chicago comes complete with corrupt politicians, yellow-press reporters, gambling parlors, and colorful bawdyhouse madams. At every turn in the investigation, Quinn discovers more suspects and more secret motives for murder.

Not least among her worries, someone seems intent on murdering her!

Historical mysteries appeal to me a lot, depending on the time period, but I have to say I haven’t encountered many books focused shortly after the Civil War. The setting alone of Devil by the Tail gives this series debut a special element that is fresh and intriguing.

Ms. Matthews takes things a step further, really a leap further, by pairing a northern lady with a former Confederate POW, surely not an every day occurrence, and the compatibility of the two was the best part of the story. (In today’s world of hostility and mean spiritedness, we could use a healthy dose of their willingness to get past their differences.)

Well, having said that, I have to backtrack a little to say that the plot here, the work that Quinn Sinclair (using the name Mrs. Paschal) and Garnick are doing as privateĀ  detectives, is just as compelling as their choice to partner up. Since this is Chicago of the 1860’s, Quinn naturally has a lot of societal barriers in her way and I love her ability to find ways around them as well as Garnick’s’s willingness to aid and abet her rebellion against the rules.

When Garnick and Paschal accept a job looking into the case of a man wrongfully accused (so he says) of killing his wife, they have no idea how murky things are going to get, especially when a second case, to prove reasonable doubt that a woman murdered her ex-lover’s bride, starts to look like there may be a connection between the two crimes. The seedy underbelly of 1867 Chicago with its brothels and yellow journalism is on full display and adds greatly to the reader’s fun. On top of the detectives’ professional work, there’s also the interesting question of what will happen in Quinn’s unpleasant dealings with her inlaws.

Ms. Matthews is well known for her vividly descriptive settings and her impeccable research, not to mention the authenticity of her language, and I enjoyed Devil by the Tail so much that it’s going on my list of best books read in 2021.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2021.