Lesbian detective romance in 1880’s New York

Despite being listed as the second book in a series, Debra Hyde’s The Tattered Heiress stands completely alone, surpasses the first volume in quality in my opinion, and details a relationship backstory completely missing from the other book. I’d say you’re safe just jumping straight into Heiress as its own independent story. And even if you don’t like mysteries it’s a worthwhile story if you want a historical (1875/1880) lesbian romance with a happy ending and the only inner turmoil is over “what will Mother Say” rather than any kind of internalized homophobia.

It’s a disservice to describe this book only as a New York lesbian version of Holmes and Watson, because Charlotte and Joanna seem far better fleshed out than fanfiction to me, especially in this book. There are two stories told here — the present-day mystery of how to rescue a young upper-class woman who lost all her money and is now in trouble, and flashbacks into Joanna’s debutante days during which she first realized she not only preferred Charlotte’s company to marrying a man but also that she wanted the independence of a single woman’s life at the time — i.e. education, nursing, good works, rather than going to parties and having to shut up all the time to preserve propriety and men’s egos.

Truth be told, it’s “not marrying” that Mother is more worried about than her having a female companion. I found that a really interesting and realistic-for-the-time contrast to today’s world where a woman having a career is often no big deal but dating another woman might still cause family issues. Since the story is told in the present day where you see how happy and stable the two women are together, the angst in the flashbacks is a safe catharsis rather than a cause of stress for this reader.

There are also a variety of explicit sex scenes in which both ladies are apparently D/s switches. They’re separate from the story, so if you’re not fond of erotica you can just skim those bits (I didn’t skim. :P)

The mystery also ends with a happy m/f resolution for some side characters and for some reason I’m a sucker for “lesbians saving everybody else”, so that was cool. And anyone from New York is probably going to be squeezing their pants off about all the locations that get name-dropped and used as settings; I love that kind of heavy steeping in place.

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About Shira

Queer Jewish feminist author
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