Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang
Rating: 4.5 stars
Representation: (mixed kinda) & immigrants
Content Warnings: addiction, gore/blood, murder, sexual assault, and spousal abuse.
Opium and Absinthe centers on a wealthy young New York heiress battling a morphine addiction and confronting a series of vampire-like slayings after the first publication of Dracula.
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.
When I bought Opium & Absinthe, I didn't realize that I had already read a book by Kang, Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything which was very entertaining and shocking. [I highly recommend it to folx who love odd facts and the like.] If I had realized that, I think I would have went into this book knowing that Kang was about to slip some disturbing medical knowledge into this historical fiction mystery.
This book had good pacing and seemed to speed up towards the middle which is great for a murder mystery because otherwise, I'd get bored. I was happily surprised each time my predictions for the reason behind Lucy's murder and the culprit were proven wrong. I think the reason it was so easy to get sucked into those incorrect assumptions is because this book only had Tillie's point of view. I realize that I spent a lot of time using terrible behavior as possible proof of each character's capacity to commit murder. Silly me! Sometimes people are just crappy.
We are introduced to this world of Tillie's insatiable mind through her letters to her idol, journalist Nellie Bly. I think that was a really cool tie-in! Just like most leads in murder mysteries, Tillie is often curious to the point of stupidity. It doesn't help that almost everyone is ready to supply her with opium, as well as other substances deemed medicinal at the time. If you don't know much about the history of medicine or haven't read Quackery, much of the substance use in this book will come as a shock. Which is why I think it's a good way to learn about those topics as well as the experiences of upperclass white women, lower class white folks, children, and the beginnings of white feminism.
Although the book hints in the beginning at Tillie being part Chinese, this filled with an entirely white cast. So if you're looking for diversity, it ain't here. Sorry, friend!