Annie Fuller was widowed after her husband lost her fortune in the economic depression of the middle 1800s and committed suicide. After some struggles, she established a comfortable life for herself in San Francisco, running a small boarding house. But on the side, she is Madam Sibyl, a popular psychic who dispenses practical advice in the form of mysticism. All is going well until one of her clients appears to commit suicide. As she knew his finances were not dreadful and he had particular grand plans, she suspects there is more to the situation than the police are seeing. With the reluctant help of the family’s lawyer, Nate Dawson, she begins investigating the family as a new housemaid to discover what really happened to Matthew Voss.
Honestly, this sounds much better than it was. A woman working as a psychic on the side, and then disguising herself as a housemaid? It has all the marks of some good, wacky hijinks. Unfortunately, the story falls flat. Annie starts out as a strong character. She is quiet but able to stand up for herself and others, and shows plenty of insight. But her character degenerates as the story goes on. She begins to rely more and more on Nate Dawson, who is a somewhat dull character in general. She makes increasingly stupid decisions in the name of “investigating”.
The plot itself also began unraveling. It is highly unlikely the police would be sending the family’s lawyer to investigate certain elements of the case by himself. The villain was unfortunately obvious from the beginning, and then Locke had to be ridiculous and make him utterly depraved. It’s okay to have villains that are otherwise decent people that do terrible things occasionally. But this villain couldn’t just be the murderer; he had to be a rapist, a drunk, and a gambler. Even though he was obvious, I thought he was an interesting villain because he was otherwise very kind. But that’s too much like a well-rounded character, I suppose.
Overall, the story made little impact on me. The only part that I enjoyed was Annie learning the amount of work that goes into being a maid, and resolving to budget for more help for her own maids. It’s little things like these that make me sad that the book wasn’t better. I feel like Locke had a lot of good ideas but the story itself needed editing and tightening up. This is an unfortunate problem I’ve noticed with a lot of self-published authors. Word to the wise: even though you don’t go with a traditional publishing house, please set aside money to hire an editor to ensure the book is of good quality or at least find an English teacher friend to help you edit. I know from personal experience that a good idea does not a good book make. (Who am I kidding? You’ve read the stories I post on here. I need an editor to smack me over the head with a large red pen.)