An Open Letter to Victoria Thompson, Author of the Gaslight Mystery Series

Dear Ms. Thompson,

Every day, women are told that they can only ever be truly happy if they give birth to a child. It is everywhere – from our own mothers, to politicians, to religious leaders, to books, movies, and TV shows. No matter what else a woman has in her life, no matter how many kids she may have through adoption or marriage, no matter whether she might not even want kids, the idea that women can only know true happiness by forcing another human being out through her vagina is force-fed to us every day.

I started reading your Gaslight Mysteries series for lots of reasons. I actually read Murder in Chinatown first because, obviously, China and Chinese people are particular interests of mine. I really loved it, again for many reasons. I love the setting. I love the mysteries. I love the romance. I love how you have created a realistic Victorian heroine with a job other than lady or whore. So I started to read the series from the beginning this year. I read the first 15 books in about 8 weeks.

I mainly love how the protagonist, Sarah Brandt, has an adopted daughter. Even though gaining a child through adoption was not Sarah’s dream, it was simply meant to be. She loves Catherine as her own, as many adoptive mothers do.

About book 13, though, I really started getting nervous. Like, really nervous. I was anxious and frustrated and almost angry. I wanted to skip books 13 and 14 and read 15, Murder in Chelsea, just to know what happened to Catherine. Obviously, the arch of the book was heading toward Detective Sargent Malloy and Sarah getting married (that’s not a spoiler, that’s just the trajectory of the series). The book was also heading toward solving the mystery of Catherine’s past. But if they found out who she was, most likely they would find out who her family was. Most likely, that would mean Sarah losing Catherine because no matter who they were, legally, they were her family.

I can honestly say that I was sick with worry that your series was going to follow the same trope as millions of others: Sarah was going to lose Catherine, marry Malloy, have a baby of her own, and discover true happiness.

I almost feel I owe you an apology for thinking so poorly of you. By the end of Murder in Chelsea, I was nearly in tears. The only thing stopping me was my husband looking at me as if I had grown two heads. I gave him a quick explanation of what happened (I think I failed in summing up all 15 books in two sentences), but I am still not sure he quite understood what your denouement of this plot arch meant, and still means, to me.

But I hope you do.

Every day, women without birth children are made to feel less-than, and we are sorely underrepresented in media (and this is in an area where women in general are underrepresented). I just want to thank you for your lovely series and for including non-traditional women and families in your books. As an aspiring mystery writer myself, I can only hope to live up to a fraction of what you have accomplished. I have even thought of enrolling in the writing popular fiction program at Seton Hill University just so I can learn from you directly. Maybe someday.


Amanda R.