C. A. Asbrey and the Snowy Western
The days of the Wild West generally evoke images of green forests, golden plains and sandy canyons of the most inhospitable kind, with violent deaths waiting at every turn and corner. While these stereotypical depictions aren’t exactly wrong, they certainly don’t show the complete picture. For the majority of people in those days, life was mostly about travelling from one town to the next, fighting off the dangers of poor hygiene and dysentery, trying to find a place to settle for good. Their efforts led them across all kinds of territories and climates, but wherever settlements grew, law and order became a very serious affair. Murders weren’t exactly tolerated, at least not by people like Abigail MacKay in C. A. Asbrey’s Innocent as Sin , the second book in The Innocents Mystery series.
The book opens some time after the first novel, and we are once again introduced to Nat and Jake, leaders of “The Innocents”, a train-robbing gang who seems to have expanded its activities into bank robbery now. In the midst of their operation in Everlasting, Wyoming, they spot Abigail and begin to wonder if she is once again on her trail. As it turns out, she is doing some undercover work of her own and is afraid the two gangsters might blow her cover. However, everyone’s plans soon come to a bit of a halt as the town gets snowed in and the frozen corpse of a woman is discovered. Though the killer might not be going anywhere, the victims are sure to start piling up if he is allowed to roam free. Finding herself once again in need of Nat and Jake’s help, the trio begins the race against the clock to expose the culprit of the heinous crime to the light of justice, and hopefully restore a semblance of order to the town.
The Fascinating World of Old Forensics
While Abigail might certainly be a capable detective when it comes to her powers of deduction and logical reasoning, her forte has always been her in-depth knowledge of the latest, cutting-edge forensic methods available to man. In this department, Asbrey has without a doubt done all the research she could possibly get her hands on, consistently providing minute and very exact details on the science as it was back in those days. It’s quite fascinating to see how much could be accomplished with the primitive tools of the time, at the same time giving us a real appreciation for how far we have come in this domain in only a few centuries. Needless to say, while we the readers can understand the limitations of these various tools in theory, the story is, in some ways at least, crafted around their possible applications, creating a stage where they can really shine.
As far as the murder mystery itself goes, this feels like one of those rides where it’s more about the chase than the catch. We consistently wonder how Abigail will find ways to make something out of nothing, how she will acutely discover the tiniest leads to follow, which to me is an important characteristic to have for a detective expected to carry an entire series forward. I especially enjoyed the setting in which this took place, reminiscent of a classic whodunit setup where the environment is closed off and the number of suspects is very limited. As the reader, I found myself able to think along with Abigail’s investigation, trying to pin the culprit myself, and I do believe there is enough information in the book to give us a fair chance at doing so.
Murder and Other Important Things
While there might certainly be a murderer on the loose who is basically asking to get caught, this doesn’t mean life ought to be put on hold. There are a few side plots inserted into strategic locations to break up the pace and give us a bit of variety in the directions we move in. As a result, whenever I came back to the main murder mystery it felt fresh and welcoming once again without having fallen too far behind in the rear-view mirror. At the same time, Asbrey doesn’t linger on any one particular subject for too long, knowing what the readers are really here for. She struck a balance between the two worlds which is even better than in the first book in my opinion, at the same time finding moments to give us a bit of exposition about the days of old. For instance, we learn about artificial ice created in the late 19th century and the prevalence of sewing machines in daily life. These little details help bring the world to life and have us completely immersed in it by the time all the set-ups are done.
There are also a couple of other mysteries going on, Abigail’s work for a bounty hunter who never takes in anyone alive, her tentatively budding relationship with Nat, Jake’s suspicions of her true motives, as well as the gang’s robbing operations. In other words, there are more than enough diverse elements to keep you entertained, and some of them even lead to relatively interesting moments of character development and it definitely feels as if some things are being set up for future novels in the series. Throughout the book there are also some call-outs to the previous novel here and there, but I will confidently say you don’t need to have read it to enjoy this second volume.
The Final Verdict
Ultimately, I’d venture to say Innocent as Sin by C. A. Asbrey is even better than the first novel in the series, building upon the elements which worked and discarding a few which did not. It’s a tense murder mystery with some fascinating exploration of the Wild West and primitive forensic methods which I believe any fan of the genre will thoroughly enjoy.
C. A. Asbrey is an author of mystery books with a passionate interest for early forensic and detection methods. She spent many years conducting research for her first novel, The Innocents , which kicked off The Innocents Mystery Series giving way to two more books so far, Innocent as Sin and Innocent Bystander.