Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery

Rated 5.00/5 based on 8 reviews
In this light-hearted historical mystery, Annie Fuller is a widow who works in San Francisco as Madam Sibyl, a clairvoyant. In 1879, when a creditor threatens to take away her home, and Voss, one of Madam Sibyl’s clients, dies suddenly, Annie Fuller and Nate Dawson, the Voss family lawyer, try to find out the truth about Voss’s death in order to save his family and Annie from financial ruin. More
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About M. Louisa Locke

M. Louisa Locke, a retired professor of U.S. and Women’s history, has embarked on a new career with her best-selling Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, which is based on Dr. Locke's doctoral research on late 19th century working women. Maids of Misfortune, the first in this series, features domestic service, and Uneasy Spirits, the sequel, explores women and 19th Spiritualism. Her third book, Bloody Lessons, focuses on teachers working in the San Francisco public schools in 1880. She has also written four short stories that are based on characters from the novels, and they can be found in this collection, Victorian San Francisco Stories. Her next book in the series, Deadly Proof, about women in the San Francisco printing industry, will be available early in 2015.

Go to for more about M. Louisa Locke and her work, including information about the historical research behind these books. Word of mouth is crucial for any author to succeed. Therefore, if you enjoyed Maids of Misfortune, please consider writing a review. Dr. Locke is on the Board of Directors for the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative and an active member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Also by This Author


Review by: Libby Hanna on March 12, 2015 :
Elegantly written whodunit tale with believable, engaging characters in a richly descriptive historical landscape. If you love historical fiction, romance, suspense or smart female sleuths, there is something in this book for you. I can't believe my good luck in getting this free book for my recent trip, and I confess it pulled me away from my other duties on more than one occasion! A great read.
(review of free book)

Review by: Charlotte E. English on April 17, 2011 :
I loved the character of Annie Fuller from the first page. Already a widow at the age of twenty-six, she's been pushed around, mistreated, gone from wealth right down to destitution and still pulled herself back. As the story opens, we find her the owner of a respectable boarding house, enjoying the independence she deserves. And if I had to describe Annie Fuller in one word, 'independent' is the word I would use. Nobody tells this lady how to behave!

She augments her modest living by masquerading as a clairvoyant, specialising in business advice. It's the only way that men of the 1870s would accept financial guidance from a woman - a pity, as Annie is very good at it indeed. Then one of her favourite clients is killed. The police say it is suicide, but Annie is certain it was murder.

To make matters worse, a creditor of her dead husband's is trying to collect an old debt from Annie which she cannot pay. The only way she can avoid losing her home is to solve the mystery of Matthew Voss's death - and in the process find out what became of the assets he left to her in his will. Annie's a determined woman. With the help of the stubborn but loveable lawyer, Nate Dawson, there's nothing she won't do to learn the truth about the mysterious Voss family and the night that Matthew was killed.

I enjoyed the historical details in this tale, and the writing style is lively and easy to read. Its real strength, though, is the characters. They're believable, interesting, and they really do seem to be visiting straight from the 1870s. I'm looking forward to the next book from this author.
(reviewed within a week of purchase)

Review by: Annmarie Banks on Feb. 22, 2011 :
Maids of Misfortune is a delightful swirl of mystery and adventure set in 19th century San Francisco where the hills and the sea generate misty secrets and roller coaster excitement.

Young widow Annie Fuller runs a boarding house, clinging to the last remnant of her inheritance: a small piece of San Francisco real estate. When her home, her livelihood and the futures of her friends and boarders are threatened, this spirited young woman takes matters into her own hands.

The author skillfully maneuvers the heroine through the tangle of Victorian social customs and the daily lives of servants and masters in order to get to the truth behind a mysterious death. A real concern for the well-being of the characters emerges from her pen and is telegraphed to the reader so much so that when the real danger is exposed at the climax, one is holding one’s breath and squeezing the e-reader.

The story is told with wit and humor and the characters, especially Mr. Wong, come to life like old friends. I finished the book with a happy sigh that became a frown of impatience as now the interminable wait for the sequel has thrown me into a fit of pique.

I see this beginning of series of mysteries as a welcome addition to this genre, and a feast for mystery readers hungry for more.
(reviewed long after purchase)

Review by: Steve Bartholomew on Feb. 09, 2011 :
A well-crafted whodunit which happens to be set in Victorian San Francisco. Personally I don't usually read mysteries, but this particular tale transcends the genre. The author conveys the flavor of living in a time and place long gone and yet in many ways still with us. The narrative's reality is enhanced by richness of detail--for instance the difficulty of day to day living, such as doing laundry by hand and ironing with literal irons heated on a stove. Still, the author understands the value of making every word advance the plot. I couldn't wait to get to the end, and then was sorry it was finished.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

Review by: Martha Marks on Jan. 07, 2011 :
I enjoyed this novel, which hit three of my hot buttons: believable characters, intriguing plot, and accurate history.

To keep her financial head above water in tough times, widow and boarding-house owner Annie Fuller slips convincingly into a pair of alternative roles as fortune-teller Sybil and amateur-sleuth-turned-domestic-servant-for-a-week Lizzie. When her grueling (and risky!) investigation is over—and with romance in the air—Annie slides just as easily back into her own comfort zone. Along the way, this clever heroine shines her lamp on an intriguing cast of characters who operate up and down the social ladder, reflecting in sharp detail the prejudices, mores, and lifestyles of Victorian America.

Plot-wise, I loved the interplay of good guys, possible villains, true villains, and hapless onlookers as they’re assaulted with real clues, fake clues, red-herring clues, and easily missed clues. This cozy mystery worked for me.

History-wise, through the perspective of her fascinating array of characters, the author (a retired history professor) unfolds the living, growing San Francisco of 1879. I know from my own experience writing historical fiction how challenging it is to get right all the details of another time and place. Locke has surely gotten them all right here. I felt like I was sharing the city with Annie/Lizzie/Sybil, and I’m looking forward to going back for another visit to their world when the next book in this series makes its appearance.

Martha Marks
Author of Rubies of the Viper, a different kind of historical mystery
(reviewed within a week of purchase)

Review by: BexBits C on July 16, 2010 :
The historical detail and believable, interesting, characters make this a great book for the historical mystery reader. I read Dandy Detects (her short story with the same setting, available here on Smashwords) and then had to buy Maids of Misfortune. Now I keep checking back for a sequel!
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

Review by: Lisa Anne Nisula on July 11, 2010 :
I really enjoyed Maids of Misfortune. The main characters, Anne and Nate, are very likable and I hope to meet them again. The mystery itself came to a satisfying conclusion. There is quite a bit of historical detail, but it fits into the story and doesn't overwhelm it. All and all a great cozy mystery.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

Review by: Anna Drake on Dec. 03, 2009 : (no rating)
From the title of this book to its satisfyingly complex tale, everything in Maids of Misfortune, a Victorian San Francisco Mystery conspires to make this book a winner. Within this work, author, M. Louisa Locke demonstrates both mastery of the mystery genre and an innate ability to build a fictional world filled with complex and satisfying characters.
Take Anne Fuller, Ms Locke's bright and promising new sleuth. Anne's a widow, a somewhat unorthodox spiritual advisor, and the mistress of a boarding house, a boarding house she could lose thanks to one of her deceased husband's unsecured debts.
But Anne is no stranger to the ways of money. The daughter of a gifted financial wizard, Anne learned her business acumen at his knee and is now passing it on to some of her most valued male clients; like Matthew Voss, a successful furniture manufacturer in the city, who is now dead. Suicide is suspected in his death because of alleged business reverses. But Anne knows Voss's business was improving and that the man had no reason to kill himself because of money
So Anne goes under cover to get the goods on what was really going on inside the Voss house -- partly to correct the wrong she feels is being flung at Voss with the thought of his committing suicide and partly to help track down his missing assets. A small part of that money is coming her way through a bequest to her in his will. Anne realizes that those missing assets might help her retain her boarding house, the only means she has of maintaining her independent lifestyle.
And with verve, creativity and pluck, Anne Fuller steps forward to track a killer in what is described byLocke as the first in a series of adventures for this new sleuth. We certainly hope it is the first of many stories for her, as we doubtless will be following the rest of the series with great delight.
(reviewed the day of purchase)

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