on June 8, 2016
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Also in this series: All Signs Point to Murder
San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti's life is turned upside down when she becomes the target of the city's newest cult leader, Reverend Roy of the Prophet's Tabernacle. Driven out of her apartment in the midst of a disastrous Mercury retrograde period, she takes shelter with a client who's caring for two elderly aunts. One aunt appears stricken with dementia and the other has fallen under the spell of the Reverend Roy. To add to the confusion, a young man claiming to be a long lost nephew arrives. The longer he stays, the more dangerous things become. Is the young man truly a member of the family? Can astrology confirm that? Julia's not sure, but one thing she does know is that Mercury wasn't merely the messenger of the gods—he was a trickster and a liar as well.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
If You’re Goin’ to San Francisco . . .
A guest post by Connie di Marco
Remember that old song from the Summer of Love? Well, if you do go to San Francisco, you can forget the flowers in your hair but it’s a must to take a cable car ride.
When I lived there, I rode the Powell-Hyde line every day. It was the quickest way to get from my apartment to work. The last stretch of that ride, from the top of Russian Hill to the bottom of Hyde Street is one that might cause some sweaty palms as you ponder the fact that it’s only a thin cable running under city streets that’s keeping you safe.
Now, Julia Bonatti, my protagonist in the Zodiac Mysteries, spends a lot of time in North Beach and around Russian Hill, but she buzzes around the city in her little Geo. I think I’ll have to find a reason for her to take a cable car ride soon.
It was a man named Andrew Smith Hallidie who developed the system in 1873 using a wire-rope design. Hallidie, a few years before, had witnessed a terrible accident when a horse drawn carriage attempted to climb a steep hill paved with wet cobblestones. The load was too heavy, the surface too slippery and five horses were dragged to their deaths. Hallidie was horrified and determined to design a safer system.
The heart of the system is the cable car barn at the corner of Mason and Washington Streets that powers all the cables. There were once many more cable lines that criss-crossed the city but one by one, they were retired and replaced with buses and trolleys. It was thanks to the efforts of the Citizen’s Committee to Save the Cable Cars that the last three remaining lines were restored and still remain in service.
The Powell-Mason line starts at the turnaround at Powell and Market Streets. It runs up the big hill to the top of Powell (sometimes you wonder if it really will reach the top), crosses over Nob Hill, turns left on Jackson, right on Mason, a jog to the left on Columbus, a right on Taylor and ends at the corner of Bay and Taylor Streets. It’s the quickest way to get to North Beach or Fisherman’s Wharf from downtown.
The Powell-Hyde line starts at the same turnaround, but this car climbs the hill on Powell, crosses Nob Hill, takes a left on Jackson, a right on to Hyde Street, crosses over Russian Hill and then straight down the steep hill to Aquatic Park.
The California line starts at the bottom of California at Market Street and runs in an east-west direction, crossing over Nob Hill and ending at California and Van Ness.
A cable car ride is one of the best deals in town — $5.00 each way or a $13 passport for one day. Children 4 and under ride free. So if you’re goin’ to San Francisco . . . grip that bar tightly, take a deep breath and enjoy the ride!
Review (by Lark)
The Madness of Mercury provides an interesting debut to what promises to be an entertaining series. I liked Julie, the protagonist. She’s caring, loyal, and brave (even foolhardy at times), the sort of person who tends to give of herself without counting the cost. She also possesses a regrettable tendency to head into dangerous situations without fully weighing the risks and potential consequences. I hope for her sake that she develops a little more common sense in that regard as the series continues.
Between the threat of the Prophet’s Tabernacle group, and the question of whether someone is trying to kill Evandra, the mystery plot kept me absorbed from start to finish. I didn’t realize until I looked at di Marco’s website that Reverend Roy and the Prophet’s Tabernacle group are based on the Rev. Jim Jones and his followers, which makes them seem all the more chilling in retrospect.
As a literary device, Julie’s newspaper astrology column works well, both in making Julie a target of the Prophet’s Tabernacle group, and in giving her contacts who can find and convey useful information. The San Francisco setting provides local color; since the city is comprised of a series of neighborhoods and communities, it feels less impersonal than a megatropolis like Chicago or New York, which helps maintain the “cozy” feel. And Julie’s involvement with other members of the psychic set also helps build a sense of community and adds a slightly eccentric flair. The book is a touch too heavy on the astrological detail in the beginning, but I appreciate how di Marco uses it for foreshadowing or hinting at what is to come.
I was left with some unanswered questions at the end, mostly dealing with details rather than major plot points. One character seemed to me to be mainly in the book as a plot device, but on the whole, all the major and secondary characters had a real role to play, whether small or large. Most unusually for a book with a youngish female protagonist, there is no hint of a romantic relationship on the horizon, but I didn’t feel the lack of one.
I’m interested to see where di Marco goes with this series. There’s no word yet on book two. Ms. di Marco also writes another series, the Soup Lover’s Mysteries, as Connie Archer. I’m quite fond of the Soup Lover’s series and hope there will be more of them; now I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next Zodiac Mystery as well.
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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Clean Sweep ARC Challenge (May 2016)
- Cruisin' Thru the Cozies 2016