In this Victorian-era mystery set in 1880s London, outspoken society spinster Charlotte Ellison is horrified when neighborhood women start turning up strangled, including her own maid. Working-class Inspector William Pitt undertakes an investigation of the crime, and becomes intrigued by Charlotte. The two struggle to find the murderer before he kills again, and Charlotte may be the next target.

This is the first book of what is reportedly the longest-running mystery series of all time. This first book was pubbed in 1979 and, amazingly, has never gone out of print. The upper-class Victorian setting was perfect for this story and organic to it. The seething tensions of three generations of the Ellison family, the dialogue that reveals what’s NOT being said, the family secrets and long-unspoken resentments bubbling to the light added so much to the story.

WARNING, PLOT SPOILER AHEAD: I was dismayed by the murder of Charlotte’s sister, one of the main characters whose point of view we enjoyed, near the story climax. I liked this character and wasn’t prepared to have her die! But of course it served the goals of increasing the tension and stakes for the heroine to solve the crime. Because the story is a bit dark, I’m not sure whether it would be classified as a “cozy” mystery, which is the kind I find myself seeking out most frequently. One thing I like about reading mystery writ large is that, as with romance, you have a guaranteed happy ending. A mystery is about the quest for justice. The crime is always solved, and justice is always served in the end.

I’d recommend CATER STREET HANGMAN for fans of historical mysteries. Because the romance between Pitt and Charlotte is central to this first book and it has a happy ending, I’d also recommend it to romance readers who like Victorian-set stories and savor a bit of suspense with the read. The next books in the Pitt series are Callander Square, Paragon Walk, and Resurrection Row.


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