Name: Opium and Absinthe
Author: Lydia Kang
Number of Pages: 379 (Kindle)
Published: July 1st 2020 by Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Historical, Mystery
New York City, 1899. Tillie Pembroke’s sister lies dead, her body drained of blood and with two puncture wounds on her neck. Bram Stoker’s new novel, Dracula, has just been published, and Tillie’s imagination leaps to the impossible: the murderer is a vampire. But it can’t be—can it?
A ravenous reader and researcher, Tillie has something of an addiction to truth, and she won’t rest until she unravels the mystery of her sister’s death. Unfortunately, Tillie’s addicted to more than just truth; to ease the pain from a recent injury, she’s taking more and more laudanum…and some in her immediate circle are happy to keep her well supplied.
Tillie can’t bring herself to believe vampires exist. But with the hysteria surrounding her sister’s death, the continued vampiric slayings, and the opium swirling through her body, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for a girl who relies on facts and figures to know what’s real—or whether she can trust those closest to her.
Tillie Pembroke’s life is altered forever when her sister is found dead, drained of blood with puncture wounds on her neck. Bram Stoker’s Dracula has just been published and the comparison with events from that novel lead to Tillie wondering whether vampires could actually exist.
An accident whilst out riding sets Tillie on a further darker path as pain from her broken collarbone leads her into an addiction to opium.
With all this, she remains determined to find out who or what killed her sister.
Opium and Absinthe is a Victorian era murder mystery. Tillie is a good central character. She’s interested in the world, in learning and reading, and loves consulting her books in search of new facts. The usual pursuits of a suitable marriage and a good match are less concerning for her, despite it becoming the central focus for her overbearing family, particularly her grandmother.
Tillie wants to know the facts, solve the crime, and to live her own life, and possibly become a journalist like her heroine Nellie Bly, to whom she addresses various letters throughout the course of the story, never certain she’s writing to the right address.
She goes from one dangerous situation to another, risking her own safety, her own reputation, sneaking out at night in search of answers. As she fails to make real progress in identifying the killer the risks she takes become more extreme, such is her determination to find out what happened to her sister.
There are secrets and revelations throughout, and an assortment of characters all worthy of a mention here including Ian, a newsie whom Tillie befriends and who helps her in her search, despite her family’s attempts to keep them apart, saying it’s scandalous as they’re both unmarried. A more suitable alternative? James Cutter. Lucy’s former fiancé is soon on the scene as a suitor for Tillie, encouraged by her family but not particularly by Tillie herself, who has more pressing concerns than making a good match.
Dorothy and Hazel are family friends, although in Hazel’s case you do end up wondering whether friend is really the right word.
Then there’s Tom, the doctor’s son, a young man consumed by illness with whom Tillie becomes friendly during her own visits to the doctor.
The storyline kept me guessing until the end as to who or what was responsible for Lucy’s murder. I also liked the inclusion of quotes from Dracula at the beginning of each chapter, it’s made me want to read that book again as well. Tillie is a likable character who grew in confidence as the tale progressed and her discovering the truth made for an eventful tale.