Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The Last Drop of Hemlock - Historical Mystery Review

Goodreads:  The Last Drop of Hemlock by Katharine Schellman

Rating: Liked It! (3.5 Stars)
Source:  Publisher

Description:  New York, 1924. Vivian Kelly has gotten a job at the Nightingale, a speakeasy known to the young and fun as a place where the rules of society can be tossed aside for a dance and a drink, and things are finally looking up for her and her sister Florence. They might not be living like queens—still living in a dingy, two-room tenement, still scrimping and saving—but they're confident in keeping a roof over their heads and, every once in a while, there is fried ham for breakfast.

Of course, things were even better before Bea's Uncle Pearlie, the doorman for the Nightingale, was poisoned. Bea has been Vivian's best friend since before she can remember, and though Pearlie's death is ruled a suicide, Bea's sure her uncle wouldn't have killed himself. After all, he had the family to care for . . . and there have been rumors of a mysterious letter writer, blackmailing Vivian's poorest neighbors for their most valuable possessions, threatening poison if they don't comply.

With the Nightingale's dangerously lovely owner, Honor, worried for her employees' safety and Bea determined to prove her Uncle was murdered, Vivian once again finds herself digging through a dead man's past in hopes of stopping a killer.

Genre: Mystery - Historical

Why I Picked This Book:  I've enjoyed other books by this author and I couldn't resist the setting for this one.

My Impression: I really enjoyed this visit to Prohibition era New York and getting to know Vivian and all the people in her world.  Most of the historical fiction books I've read are either about the very very wealthy or the very very poor and so it was interesting to see this book set a bit more in the middle.  Vivian and her sister and many of their friends are definitely poor and have been desperate but they're getting by.  It made for an interesting perspective and provided different motivations than I've come across in the past.  As well, the difference between how Vivian and Bea have to approach how they investigate based off the difference in their skin color was interesting and frustrating.

There are really two mysteries going on in this book.  Was Pearlie murdered and if he was who did it and then who is the blackmailer stealing from people who have very little left to lose.  The investigation was a group effort through legal and illegal channels.  I really enjoyed seeing the speakeasy and bootlegging world and how tightly things must be controlled.  While the mysteries are both resolved nicely there are some threads involving the characters and their pasts and secrets that definitely have me curious and looking forward to the next book.

This was the second book in the Nightingale series but the first that I have read.  While there are a few things alluded to from the first book several times in this book I had no problem jumping in here and figuring out the whos and the whys.  

If you're looking for a historical mystery with an intriguing setting and relatable characters this is a great choice!

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?  Yes definitely! I've really enjoyed another series by this author and I'm very curious to see how this series develops.

Would I Recommend this Book?  If you like historical mysteries this is definitely one to try.  

* I received this book in exchange for an honest review.  As always my opinions and impressions are completely my own. *


  1. Certainly has some really good things going for it, and as you point out enough difference to social levels to make it interesting.

  2. The setting really appeals to me as well. I need to give this one a try!

  3. I love reading about that time period! It makes the perfect setting for a murder mystery.

  4. This is such an interesting period! I do like it when a book contains more than one mystery.

  5. That looks like a cosmopolitan my favorite drink! 😁