In the middle of robbing a bank, outlaws Nat Quinn and Jake Conroy discover that one of their hostages is none other than Abigail MacKay (Abi), the female Pinkerton agent they’d tangled with in the past. When Nat and Jake learn Abi’s real reason for being in town, they join forces to help her capture a heartless killer.

After some months apart, the three join forces again in the snowed-in town of Pettigo where a frozen corpse has been left in the church shelter. The romantic tension between Abi and Nat rises to a surprising conclusion. They must fight to find the killer and to resolve their looming romance all while surviving in polar conditions.

Theme of the Book

Three emotionally damaged people: Abi, Nat and Jake, manage to deal with their past traumas to work together for a common aim. There are sensitive topics covered in Innocent as Sin including PTSD, child prostitution, and racism, but all are handled with sensitivity.

What I Liked About the Story

The picture Ms. Asbrey paints of the Victorian Wild West is one that will both entertain and educate readers. Innocent as Sin presents history, science, and politics all within the story of a murder and the solving of a complex crime. However, readers should not be afraid that they will be exposed to a dry history lesson or a political harangue. The center of the story is both a murder mystery and a romance.

All of the historical elements are wrapped in the enigma of the murder mystery. The mystery is a type of locked-room puzzle that takes place in a town snowed in and so inaccessible to outsiders. The mystery is well-constructed with the final solution a surprise. The victim appears to have been a rather boring man who had no enemies so the reason for his death will have to be uncovered slowly and carefully.

Abigail is based on the actual first Pinkerton woman detective, Kate Warne, who fits Abi’s physical description and who was also known for her ability to disguise herself as a man or boy. Learning that Pinkerton’s employed women as detectives was a revelation and the image of Abi as an independent, forceful, and yet feminine woman was enlightening. There is not a lot of information given about Abi’s personal history, yet the reader will feel he or she knows her – or at least someone like her.

The two outlaws, Nat and Jake, are very complex characters. They are certainly not the outlaws of a typical western movie or novel. Jake is suffering from what was known at the time as “irritable heart” or, more commonly, PTSD. The novel makes a point of telling readers that this condition was relatively common after the horrors of the Civil War and that treatment did exist. His condition goes a long way in explaining both his and Nat’s characters.

Jake’s PTSD is a result of something he witnessed during a riot caused by the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing party. The Know-Nothings were against the immigration of Irish Catholics, claiming that the introduction of Catholic citizens would destroy American Protestant culture. Ms. Asbrey does not write political polemics, but the events in Jake’s past are a pointed comment on current American anti-immigrant feelings.

Another discovery for readers will be the state of forensic science at the time. While not the miracles performed daily on CSI, scientists had tools at their disposal that would help identify victims and solve crimes.

What I Didn’t Like About the Story

There is a definite sexual and romantic tension between Abigail and Nat. This does add to the interest of the novel and provides a rationale for further books. However, I found their frequent back-and-forth conversations tedious. The conversations seemed to go on forever to no apparent end. Any reader of romance novels will easily see the arc of their relationship but this author seems to have decided to spread the arc over several books.

Final Say

Innocent as Sin was highly entertaining for the most part. The characters are complex and well-drawn and the murder mystery intriguing. The view into the daily life of small towns in the West is fascinating. The only negative for me was the drawn-out romance.

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