Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries Reflect the Present Era of Immigrant Hatred, Distrust of Women, and Income Disparity
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” George Santayana
Proceeds from the sale of this series will go to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research.
Clara Shortridge Foltz faces a patriarchal nemesis in 1884 San Francisco. When a white prostitute is murdered and flayed down to a skeleton, Clara is hired by the Six Companies of Chinatown to defend the sixteen males who are swept-up by the Chinatown Squad. This ragtag and corrupt group of sheriffs work for the mayor, Washington Bartlett. The mayor uses the nation’s anti-Chinese sentiment in his quest to win the race for Governor of California.
Foltz, the first woman admitted to the California Bar, must learn fast to become a detective in order to prove that her client, journalist George Kwong, is not the killer, but was set-up by the mayor to take the fall. Along with Ah Toy, her trusted translator and best friend, she is instructed by the head of detectives, Captain Isaiah Lees. Lees becomes enamored with Clara, who is having personal problems with sexual commitment, due to her first marriage with Jeremiah Foltz. He was a Union vet who deserted Clara and their five children for a younger woman.
Captain Lees has personal problems of his own, as he has devoted all his time fighting the corrupt politicians and the Chinatown Squad for twenty years, and has not even made time for female relations. Theirs is a very special kind of romance.
Clara brings a national spotlight to bear on her case, as thousands of women flock to the City by the Bay to support her effort to win against these patriarchal forces. The Chinese are also oppressed, and Clara and Ah Toy become embroiled in a deadly came of cat-and-mouse to trap the real killer and save George Kwong.
As a special bonus, you can read the first two chapters in the second mystery of the series, The Spiritualist Murders, in which Clara and Ah Toy must find out why wives are under the spell of a magnetic and hypnotically attractive young spiritualist. These women are being awakened sexually by him and are then murdering their husbands to escape their lives of Victorian and male-dominated oppression.
The reviews for The Spiritualist Murders are great! Here’s the review from Kirkus Reviews.
Also, here’s the 9 of 10 rating given at the contest for the Best Mystery and Thriller novel at BookLife. Chosen as a Semi-Finalist in the BookLife Prize for Best Mystery.
Reviewed By Deborah Lloyd for Readers’ Favorite
This story captures a unique time in American history. Women’s voices were rarely heard, except in the suffragette movement and in the spiritualist community. Clara Foltz and Laura de Force Gordon, the only two female attorneys in San Francisco in 1886, join forces to solve the question of why women are killing their husbands. Time is of the essence as these vicious murders continue. Adeline Quantrill, an eighteen-year-old woman with clairvoyant abilities; Clara’s friend, Ah Toy; Clara’s lover, Isaiah Lees, Captain of Detectives; and her children, Samuel and Trella, become part of the dangerous venture. In The Spiritualist Murders: A Portia of the Pacific Historical Mystery, Volume 2, written by James Musgrave, an intriguing and complex dramatic mystery unfolds. The Winchester House in San Jose, with the character of Mrs. Winchester added to the cast, plays a dominant role in the plot.
The author portrays the time period with great detail and clarity. For example, the fact that Mary Todd Lincoln consulted with mediums after the deaths of her husband and son is mentioned. From clothing fashions to traveling by railroad, the historical descriptions are interesting and instructive. The author’s creativity in combining so many different facets of the culture is fascinating for the reader. The character development of each person is strong and subtle. The flow of the story is fast paced, yet the writing style reflects the language of the time. Author James Musgrave has penned a delicious masterpiece in The Spiritualist Murders: A Portia of the Pacific Historical Mystery, Volume 2.
CHINAWOMAN’S CHANCE, and all of the mysteries in this series, will be under 55,000 words long. This is done so that the works can be affordable and readable for our patrons. This mystery may be shorter, but it still packs a punch, and Clara Foltz must perform some daring deeds to find the killer before her client hangs from a rope on Russian Hill. Can you solve this mystery before she does? Experience the reality of 1884 San Francisco, when women were working for their civil rights, and some, like Foltz, were trying to protect the rights of underclass citizens. Clara will be arguing to you, in this fast-paced, courtroom drama and investigative, suspenseful mystery. It’s her first case, and she has a lot of help. Captain of Detectives, Isaiah Lees, and his partner Dutch Vanderheiden show Clara the techniques of sleuthing at the street level in Chinatown. And, her personal translator and best friend, Ah Toy, a successful Madame who worked her way out of Chinatown and into the mainstream, will help her to find out who the killer is.
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James Musgrave’s new book will be self-published. This novel is a little over 50K
Why I Write Historical Mysteries
“I write historical mysteries because, in some ways, the stark differences were clearer, so when my characters act against the evil policies, they stand out better than they do in today’s mixed-up, unfocused, and “fake news” press. Even though newspapers and magazines were the only media back then, they were still read and digested, and the people and their vocabularies, for the most part, were far superior to what we have today. People thought long and hard about issues, crawled deep inside them, and saw the real causes and effects of laws and legislation.” James Musgrave, March, 2018.
Clarion Review, Foreword Press
Chinawoman’s Chance is an engaging mystery with a historically informative feminist bent.
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.
Reviewed by Anita Lock
April 11, 2018
Reviewed By Grant Leishman for Readers’ Favorite
Chinawoman’s Chance (Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries) by Jim Musgrave takes us back to the bustling and somewhat lawless society of San Francisco in 1884. The California Gold Rush and the railways have made San Francisco a place of wealth and power, but for certain sections of society, nothing has really changed. For women and for the Chinese immigrants brought to America by the railway bosses to help build the railways, life is hard. Neither group has any real rights in this America of the 1880s. Championing the cause for women and the oppressed is the larger than life self-trained barrister, Clara Shortridge Foltz Esq. When a young ex-prostitute is murdered, flayed and eviscerated in the Chinatown district of the city, suspicion immediately falls on the Chinese Tongs that make up the ghetto that is Chinatown. Captain Isaiah Lees and his sergeant must determine who is responsible and cut off any possibility of retaliatory action against the Chinese immigrants. Competing against the rival and corrupt Sheriff’s Department plus the city’s mayor, Lees has his job cut out for him.
As a big fan of historical novels in general and historical mystery stories in particular, I found Jim Musgrave’s Chinawoman’s Chance (Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries) to be absolutely superb. As the first in a series of books based around the wonderful character of Clara Shortridge Foltz Esq., the author has created a marketable and believable set of characters on which to build his series. Clara is clearly the star of the story, with her forthrightness and her willingness to take on the patriarchal society at their own game. In the age of the suffragettes, Musgrave’s character is the perfect portrayal of the women who led the campaign for women’s rights all around the world. Her freedom and her owning of her own sexuality was rare among woman of the time. It was fascinating to look at the reactions of the politicians to the perceived growing threat of the “yellow menace”, as they termed it, with their heathen religions and beliefs, comparing that to today’s response with respect to Hispanic and Muslim immigration. The “Exclusion Act” and the “Muslim Ban” – not all that different, perhaps? This book appealed to me on many levels, but most importantly of all, it was a darn good read and an excellent mystery.
Reviewed By Jack Magnus for Readers’ Favorite
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.
Narrator Anne James Agrees to do Portia of the Pacific Audiobooks
The voice of Clara Shortridge Foltz, Ah Toy, and all the other lovable characters in the Portia of the Pacific series of mysteries will be Ms. Anne James. Anne has narrated many novels, and her pleasing voice captures all the special nuances and inflections needed in a dramatic reading. EMRE Publishing is enthusiastic about having her as the unique narrator for this great new series.
Listen to a sample from the audiobook’s first chapter. (.mp3, .ogg, .wav)
Anne James Answers Three Questions
1. As a woman of Chinese ancestry who lived in San Francisco and Northern California, did you enjoy narrating a history about the early Chinatown of San Francisco? Why?
2. Do you think it’s important for historical fiction to feature issues that may be controversial, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act? Why is this important?
3. Why do you think the character of Clara Shortridge Foltz will be an excellent vehicle for this series?
Here’s Anne’s Response:
Third Mystery Announced in the Portia of the Pacific Series
The Stockton Insane Asylum Murder
A Portia of the Pacific Historical Mystery
“Madness can be seen as an intuitive probing into true reality.”–R. D. Laing
Women were, among others, misdiagnosed as insane by alienists in the 1800s. My plot will involve a female child who has been institutionalized in 1887, but the aunt of this child comes to Clara Foltz to say she believes the child was admitted to the Stockton State Insane Asylum (the first such institution in California) because she knew about a murder that was committed on her wealthy parent’s estate.
Clara solicits the help of Elizabeth Packard, the crusading (real) activist who was committed in the 1860s by her husband. It took Mrs. Packard three years to earn her freedom. Together with Ah Toy, they contrive a way to go undercover to gain admittance into the Women’s Building at Stockton to find the child and determine what happened to have her institutionalized. Children were regularly institutionalized, as were the elderly and the feeble-minded.
New! Read the first three chapters of this mystery here.