Winter at Death’s Hotel: Book Review by Janet Walker

Winter at Death’s Hotel is an unusual novel; part a well researched documentation of life in late 1800’s New York and part a grisly suspenseful, sometimes disturbing thriller that pits amateur detective Louisa Conan Doyle (yup, she’s Arthur’s wife) against a mad, bad, serial killer.

Set in the up-market Britannic Hotel, the author Kenneth Cameron weaves a tale of mayhem and murder amidst the daily comings and goings of the hotel’s clients and does it wonderfully well.

Teddy Roosevelt, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Conan Doyle, NYPD officers and characters that call the sidewalks of New York home are portrayed with vivid imagery, the plot, intricate and at times, seriously scary.

Louisa Conan Doyle’s raison d’être is to serve and or obey her husband Arthur, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

Louisa, unlike other middleclass women of her time, she has a mind of her own – one that begs to experience life outside the stifling confines of society and husband Arthur’s patronizing view of appropriate female behaviour.

The story begins when Arthur and Louisa arrive at the Britannic Hotel, the starting point for Arthur’s U.S. lecture tour.

On day one, Louisa notices in the lobby a pretty young woman accompanied by a handsome man.

Their eyes meet and Louisa is struck by the young woman’s happy expression.

Appearing to know the hotel detective, they disappear up the hotel staircase and Louisa daydreams about the couple’s relationship. The next morning, Louisa, up early, leaves a sleeping Arthur to buy a newspaper.

Horrified to read a woman’s mutilated body has been found in a Bowery alley, she studies the artist’s sketch of the unidentified woman’s face.

Louisa is certain the drawing is of the happy young woman she saw in the hotel lobby.

Back in her room, Louisa tells Arthur of her discovery. Arthur, in real life no Sherlock Holmes, orders her to forget the woman and any thought of contacting the NYPD, his main concern being that the use of his name may attract bad publicity from the gutter press.

Louisa, unhappily, does as she’s told and with her maid, Ethel, packs for their departure on the morning train.

At the door of the hotel, accompanied by Arthur, Ethel and a wagon load of cases, Louisa trips on the entry way carpet and sinks painfully to the floor – she has sprained her ankle.

I’m really glad she did this as stuffy stingy Arthur goes on his lecture tour alone and Louisa, left behind to convalesce, takes centre stage as a fully rounded (in more ways than one) literary figure in an exciting tale.

Louisa wastes no time contacting the police about the dead woman but is treated rudely, her identification of the murder victim disparaged and dismissed. Undaunted, she writes a letter to Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt.

Teddy, with something to hide, directs her information be investigated but not too closely. Another woman, similarly mutilated, is found murdered.

Louisa, determined to find the identity of the first victim meets Minnie, a newspaper reporter.

Lonely without Arthur and without any gal pals to turn to, Louisa is drawn to Minnie, a young woman battling to succeed in the male domain of newspaper reporting.

Friendship develops as they help each other – Minnie in search of a scoop, Louisa in search of justice for the women who have been so brutally murdered.

Spooked by things that go bump in the night in her hotel suite, Louisa is sure the hotel or one of its habitués is somehow involved in the murders.

What’s behind the façade of the Britannic Hotel?

Something very nasty is going on and Louisa aims to find out who is involved and why. How she does this is a harrowing thrilling read and one I enjoyed.

Arthur and Louisa’s lives, forever changed by the events that happen behind the Britannic Hotel’s double brick walls.

The last paragraph of Winter at Death’s Hotel appears to leave the way open for author, Kenneth Cameron to write more chapters devoted to Louisa Conan Doyle’s investigations.

I hope so; she’s a woman I’d like to hear more about.

Janet Walker, Guest Author, The Culture Concept Circle 2013

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