A fictional yet historical look at the first woman lawyer in California. However, it is not just about being a lawyer, but she must also work to prove her client isn't guilty. This story is well researched and very well written. The story flows perfectly, giving an aspect of life in the late 1800s. A tension of people, white versus non-white, women versus men, and an anti-Chinese sentiment. There is more than just one plot line which lends to the depth of the story and its characters. Clara is unlike any heroine that I've read, and I enjoyed this story immensely. I look forward to reading more work from Musgrave.
"A gruesome murder makes way for an unexpected romance in James Musgrave’s Chinawoman’s Chance.
The first book in the Portia of the Pacific series, Chinawoman’s Chance starts the series well, utilizing historical figures as principal characters while shining a light on a sordid aspect of US history. The story is set in San Francisco two years after the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and is fronted by Isaiah Lees, the first hired policeman of the San Francisco Police Department, and Clara Shortridge Foltz, the first woman on the West Coast to serve as a public defender.
Detective Isaiah Lees and his assistant Dutch are investigating the grisly death of a prostitute when their case swiftly morphs into one with more complexity. George Kwong, the son of one of the leaders of the Chinese Six Companies, is arrested, reputed to be the murderer.
Because of Clara’s courageous cases in defense of voiceless women and immigrants, the Chinese leaders bribe her to represent George. Clara, who is in need of an interpreter, employs her close friend Ah Toy, the wealthy madam of Chinatown.
Isaiah meets with Clara and the foursome quickly form a tight unit to target the real killer. In the meantime, a romance unfurls between Isaiah and Clara. Although there isn’t much detail about Clara’s crumbling real-life marriage, there is enough factual information to make Isaiah and Clara’s romance both feasible and believable; their love provides a light release within a tense murder mystery.
The book ably aligns its historical characters to their fictionalized personalities. Both Isaiah’s and Clara’s phlegmatic demeanors fit well with the social graces of the period, as do their approaches to romance.
Besides Clara and Isaiah, the story incorporates other historical figures, including Ah Toy, a Cantonese-born prostitute turned affluent madam. Other historical elements befitting the era include the “benevolent association” called the Tongs and landmarks such as Waverly Place and the Tin How Temple.
Writing segues smoothly from one scene to the next; chapters close on cliffhangers. Various themes center on racism. Derogatory terms are included, as well as evidence of inequality, prostitution, and corruption, especially through the oppressive web between Manchu leaders and American moguls.
The most prominent theme, prevalent in Clara’s viewpoints, is women’s independence, including entrepreneurial opportunities and the right to vote. Narrative tension builds around Clara’s feisty determination to nail the culprit even if it means putting her life on the line.
While Chinawoman’s Chance portrays Buddhist spirituality with an unflattering mix of spiritualism and superstition, the skewed imagery blends nicely with the development of the narrative. The story closes on a satisfactory note, setting the groundwork for the next book in the already alluring series.
Chinawoman’s Chance is an engaging mystery with a historically informative feminist bent."
"Chinawoman's Chance: Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries, Volume 1 is an historical sleuth mystery written by Jim Musgrave. It was 1884, and San Francisco, even more than the rest of the country, was embroiled in a harsh and racist reaction to the recent flow of Chinese immigrants to the United States. The Chinese themselves were caught between the machinations of the ruling Manchu in their home country and Leland Stanford and the other railroad barons, who jointly conspired to keep the immigrants impoverished and bound to unfair contracts. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 made the unfair treatment of those new immigrants into law.
The Captain of Detectives for the First District of the San Francisco Police Department, Isaiah Lees, had a new case to solve. The body of a young white woman had been found in a small bungalow in Chinatown. The killer had flayed every bit of flesh and organs from her body. Mary McCarthy was an orphan, who had been a streetwalker until she had become a student at the Methodist Mission for Wayward Women. She had recently left the mission, however, and had been seen with George Kwong, son of one of the wealthy Chinese men who were leaders of the Six Companies. George and his father, Andrew Kwong, ran The Oriental, a newspaper with backing from the Methodist Church in San Francisco. A witness reported that George Kwong claimed to have taken a picture of Mary’s body. Now he was the city’s prime suspect for the murder, but George had been in love with Mary and would never have dreamed of hurting her.
Jim Musgrave’s historical murder mystery is a fascinating look at San Francisco in the late nineteenth century. His sleuthing partners, Clara Foltz and Captain Isaiah Lees, are real historical persons, and following the two as they work together in a sometimes uneasy alliance is grand entertainment. A sensitive reader won’t be able to help considering the racism that is at the heart of this story and comparing it with the current attitude toward immigrants and women in the country today. I found myself saddened to think that in many ways we’ve not gone very much farther in our treatment of others, in the disregard of equal rights and fear of diversity. Musgrave’s story is marvelous! He gives the reader a wide range of possible suspects to consider and makes San Francisco of 1884 come to life. I especially loved how he brought together the strong and capable characters of Captain Lees, Clara Foltz, Detective Sergeant Eduard Vanderheiden and Ah Toy. They are a grand team. I was quite pleased to find that Musgrave has written a second book in the series, The Spiritualist Murders, and am looking forward to reading it. Chinawoman's Chance: Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries, Volume 1 is most highly recommended."
In Musgrave’s promising historical and series launch, fear of job losses leads to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first major law restricting immigration to the U.S. Two years after the law takes effect, tensions between San Francisco’s white and Chinese-American populations heat up after the murder of Mary McCarthy, a 19-year-old prostitute, whose killer flayed her corpse, leaving only skeletal remains behind. The authorities focus on the Tongs, arresting 14 of their leaders on suspicion of some involvement in the atrocity. Reporter George Kwong, the son of one of his community’s wealthiest members, is later charged with the killing. The only people standing between George and execution are two real-life historical figures: Capt. Isaiah Lees, of the SFPD, and Clara Foltz, a pioneering female attorney who successfully advocated for women to be allowed to practice law in California. Several clever plot twists guide Isaiah and Clara to the real killer. Readers will look forward to their next adventure.