Murder on Astor Place is the first in the Gaslight Mystery series by Victoria Thompson. The novels are set in early 19th century New York City, realistically recreated, and follow the adventures of midwife Sarah Brandt and police detective sergeant Frank Malloy.
In this initial installment, Sarah finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation when she visits with Mrs. Higgins, whose baby she recently delivered. Malloy is investigating a young girl’s death at the boardinghouse owned by Mrs. Higgins. Malloy and Sarah instantly mistrust one another, especially when Malloy insists she go with him to search the girl’s room. Reluctantly, Sarah begins looking through the dead girl’s clothing. There she finds a label identifying the victim as Alicia Van Damm, the younger sister of Mina, Sarah’s old acquaintance.
Sarah begins to investigate the crime on her own, much to Malloy’s dismay. He tells her to basically keep out of the situation, but Sarah feels she can be of help as she knows the family. Malloy wants no part of Sarah; mostly because he finds her attractive. Malloy feels the need to keep his feelings to himself, as in the early 1900s, policemen have a bad reputation, and he is Irish Catholic while Sarah is from one of the oldest and richest families in the city. Sarah doesn’t share his feelings, mostly because she withdrew herself from her family over an incident with her sister, Maggie, and when they wouldn’t accept her marriage to Doctor Tom Brandt.
Upon Tom’s murder, Sarah’s family expected her to return to the fold, but she refused and remained in the middle class home she and Tom shared.
When Malloy delivers news of Alicia’s death, he finds the Van Damms strangely unemotional. Sarah reconciles with her family, and learns more of the background of the Van Damms, which she shares with Malloy. Many possible suspects appear; Ham Fischer, a roomer at the boarding house who left the night Alicia was murdered, and Sylvester Mattingly, an older man the Van Damms are said to be forcing Alicia to marry. Facts eventually lead Sarah and Malloy to look to the Van Damm household if they want to find Alicia’s killer.
In the end, with the murder solved, Malloy and Sarah reach an understanding. She learns the one thing that drives Malloy, and he grudgingly admits to himself that he is more taken with Sarah than he has a right to be. This, they agree, should be the last time they see each other, but there are more murders out there in the city for this fascinating duo to solve.