When Charlotte Edgerton moves to New York City from staid Boston in 1843, she finds the crowds on Broadway and the attractions of P.T. Barnum’s new American Museum thrilling. She is young, idealistic, and in love. The future looks bright for herself and her devoted Daniel. But when first one and then another of the glamorous “sporting girls” who work in the city’s famous brothels is murdered, Charlotte becomes aware of the darkness that lurks behind the bright glow of the city.
In a city where abolitionists are not popular and suspicion of free blacks runs high, the arrest of a black man for the crimes stirs high emotions. Charlotte and Daniel discover even police can be prejudiced, politicians are not always honest, and kindness can lead to danger. When a ruthless murderer tricks her into becoming a prisoner, Charlotte must rely on her wits to save herself and a helpless child.
I am happy to announce that my second Charlotte Edgerton Mystery book has been published and is now available in print and Kindle format at Amazon.com. Death Visits a Bawdy House paints a picture of New York City as it was in the years before the Civil War. Young men and women from the country were flooding into the city looking for jobs and trying to build new lives, but often what they found was poverty and corruption.
While I was researching background for this novel, I learned a great deal about life in New York during the tumultuous 1840s. New York was becoming the commercial center of America, but the commerce depended on a supply of cheap labor. Women especially were expected to work long hours as milliners or dressmakers at wages so low they often could not pay for a room in a respectable boarding house. If they took a job as a servant in one of the wealthy houses, they often had to fend off the advances of their employers or other men in the family. No wonder that many young girls envied the prostitutes who strolled up Broadway flaunting their beautiful clothes. Were those women better or worse off than the married women who struggled to take care of their husbands and children in the over-crowded slums of the city? That’s not always an easy question to answer.
I have been surprised to see in the past week or so that the question of whether prostitutes should be treated as criminals, victims, or independent sex workers has come up again in the news. At its world conference this month, Amnesty International, a global human rights organization, passed a resolution proclaiming that Sex Workers Rights Are Human Rights. After two years of studying the issue, Amnesty International has decided to call on governments to decriminalize consensual sex between adults. That’s a radical position and there has been lively discussion and much opposition to this decision. Nothing about the issue is clear cut. I certainly find it difficult to decide what we should do about sex workers. How can we protect women against sex trafficking, but still allow them to choose to be sex workers if they wish? It is fascinating to me that the question that was a lively discussion back in the 1840s is still being debated now.
But we don’t have to spend all of our time debating great issues. Take some time off and read the story about Charlotte and Daniel and their life in New York City—Death Visits a Bawdy House.