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Shirley Tallman

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Murder on Nob Hill
by Shirley Tallman   

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Books by Shirley Tallman
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Publisher:  St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN-10:  0312328559


Copyright:  June, 2004

Barnes &

Sarah Woolson dreams of becoming a lawyer in 1880 San Francisco. But polite society believes it's against God's will for women to seek a career. Finagling a job at a major law firm, Sarah acquires her first client, a young society matron accused of murdering her wealthy husband. Soon four more victims fall prety to the killer's knife, and Sarah finds herself embroiled in a scandalous sex club, a daring Chinatown raid, a mysterious tontine, and the Chinatown's most powerful tong lord.

The year is 1880, the place San Francisco. Intelligent, outspoken Sarah Woolson is a young woman with a goal and the fortitude to achieve it. The fourth child, and only daughter, of a Superior Court Judge for the County of San Francisco, she has always dreamed of becoming a lawyer. The trouble is, everyone believes women belong in the home, that it is not only unnatural, but against God’s will for them to seek a career.

When Sarah finagles an interview with one of the city’s most prestigious law firms in town, no one thinks she has a prayer of being hired. Except Sarah. Using her brains, and a little subterfuge, she not only manages to be taken on as the firm’s newest (and only female) associate attorney, she also acquires her first client—a lovely young society matron accused of brutally stabbing to death her wealthy but abusive husband. When Sarah agrees to represent the woman, she discovers that her beautiful client has a secret lover, and that they both had ample reason to want to see hubby dead. Everyone is convinced the two are cold-blooded killers, including the handsome, burly Scotsman, Robert Campbell, who becomes Sarah’s nemesis at the firm. But Sarah is undeterred. She’s sure her client is innocent. No matter what, she’s determined to prove it!

When four more victims fall prey to the killer’s knife—and her client is arrested for the crimes—Sarah fears she’s bitten off more than she can chew. Without Sarah’s help, the young woman will almost certainly be put to death. Bucking her boorish employer, the judicial system and the gruff Scot, Sarah finds herself embroiled in shady courtroom maneuvers, a daring Chinatown raid, a secret and very scandalous sex club, a mysterious tontine agreement, and the most powerful and dangerous tong lord in the city’s Chinese District. Not to mention her arrogant brother Frederick’s ambitious run for state senate.

Utilizing her keen mind and ready wits, Sarah courageously takes on all adversaries. One hard-earned clue at a time, she bravely tracks a ruthless killer, constantly thwarted by the very people who should be on her side. When the murderer threatens to kill his sixth, and loveliest victim, Sarah is forced to run a desperate race against a ticking clock.

Single-handedly she fights not only to free her client, but to discover the killer’s real identity. But when she finally corners the Nob Hill murderer, Sarah discovers that she is in grave danger of becoming victim number seven.
Despite claims to the contrary -- some, I fear, voiced by members of my own family -- I pride myself on being an honest woman. As a matter of principle, I hold disimulation of any kind in contempt. That said, I probably should add that I also subscribe to the old adage "God helps those who help themselves," even if this sometimes entails being economical with the truth.

If this last statement seems contradictory, I apologize. What I'm trying to explain is how I found myself poised on the brink of the most extraordinary adventure of my, to date, twenty-seven years. Despite being essentially an ethical person, you see, I had told a lie. More to the point, I had deliberately misled a group of narrow-minded men into assuming something I knew to be untrue. Furthermore, I do not regret my actions. Faced with the same circumstances, I would not hesitate to resort to this ruse again.

In this year of our Lord 1880, those individuals who continue to hold that females should be denied educational opportunities beyond those required to secure a good marriage will undoubtedly blame my dear father for my "unwomanly moral turpitude" (their words, not mine). While I take full responsibility for my actions, I have to admit that this criticism is not without a grain of truth. Were it not for Papa -- the Honorable Horace T. Woolson, Superior Court Judge for the County of San Francisco -- I doubt I would have been standing on the corner of Clay and Kearny Streets, staring up at the law offices occupied by Shepard, Shepard, McNaughton and Hall.

The morning fog that had billowed in that morning through San Francisco's Golden Gate had begun to dissipate, taking with it the heavy, moisture-laden air that, even in late summer, can seep through one's clothing. While I'm not particularly affected by the cold, I did consider the emergence of the sun to be a good omen. Or perhaps I was looking for any sign, no matter how fanciful, to bolster my resolve. I realize I am considered by many -- including the before-mentioned members of my family -- to be willful and outspoken, unfeminine and certainly foolhardy in my determination to follow my own path in this world. What would these critics say, I thought with some irony, if they could see the unladylike beads of perspiration forming on my brow, or the cowardly pounding of my heart as I studied those unwelcoming windows?

But I was procrastinating, putting off the mission I had worked so long and so hard to achieve. Straightening my dress -- I had chosen a two-piece pewter-gray suit with as little bustle as I could get away with since the reemergence of the overstuffed derriere -- I checked the lapel watch pinned to my shirtwaist. Five minutes to the hour. Time to put my plan to the test!

Professional Reviews

Publisher's Weekly
"In screenwriter Tallman's entertaining historical debut, set in San Francisco in 1880, feisty Sarah Woolson is determined to become a lawyer. With the assistance of her father, a judge, she perseveres and is admitted to the bar, only the third woman in California to earn such a distinction. Using a subterfuge to gain entrance to one of the city's most prestigious firms, Sarah soon finds her first client. Beautiful young Annjenett Hanaford stands accused of the murder of her older, abusive husband. When it's revealed that Mrs. Hanaford has a lover, the situation looks even more dire. Another murder follows, perpetrated in the same manner as the first, yet officials refuse to release Mrs. Hanaford, even though Sarah is convinced the murders are connected and her client couldn't have committed the second murder. Alternately antagonized and assisted by another lawyer in the firm, a handsome, brash Scotsman, Sarah keeps digging as the death toll continues to rise. In a wrenching, cinemnatic denouement she confronts the murderer. of 19th-century female sleuths like those of Anne Perry and Miriam Grace Monfredo will be well satisfied."

Kirkus Reviews
"Sarah Woolson, a 27-year-old lawyer in 1880 San Francisco, bustles her bustle into the august chambers of Shepard, Shepard, McNaughton and Hall, attorneys-at-law, snatching a wealthy young widow, Annjenett Hanaford, as her personal client and forcing the outraged senior partner, Joseph Shepard, to take her on as a junior associate. Mrs. Hanaford badly needs her help, since her husband, banker Cornelius Hanaford, was fatally stabbed in the genitals, and his widow is receiving subpar advice from Shepard, et al. Sarah uses the brand-new Married Women's Property Act to get her client access to some badly needed cash while her husband's estate is still in probate. When Mrs. Hanaford and her actor lover, Peter Fowler, are arrested for Hanaford's murder, however, Sarah must brush up on criminal law, since, unlike every male involved, she naturally doesn't believe for a minute that her client is guilty. Instead, she's interested in the fortune Hanaford made together with three other partners double-dealing at the Comstock Lode. When those partners turn up murdered, one by one, in the same gruesome fashion, it begins to look as if Sarah may be right.
Lively details of a lively time and place spice up a typically feisty heroine's struggles against sexism."

The Seattle Times
"Murder on Nob Hill" by Shirley Tallman, is a solid historical mystery set in 1880s San Francisco. As it opens, Sarah Woolson, a newly minted lawyer (rare for a woman back then), brashly talks her way past condescending male attorneys to land her first job: helping a young widow, Annjenett Hanaford, sort out her finances.

But it seems that Annjenett became a widow after her husband was killed in a particularly gruesome way. When she and her lover are accused of that murder, Sarah has no choice but to defend the woman -- thus falling into a sinister world that includes severaql more grisly deaths. Tallman, an experienced screenwriter, has a nice way of setting the stage and moving her plot forward."

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