Book Quote:

“Even if the Last Nightingale could be revived/ How would it tolerate the cure? Knowing that Life merely awaits/To devour it again.’  Presumed suicide note in the pocket of Tommie Kimbrough’s last victim, washed ashore near ‘Golden Gate.'”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie (JUL 24, 2009)

It is Wednesday, April 18, 1906, 5:12 A.M. Sergeant Randall Blackburn makes his way back to the City Hall Station after a long night’s beat patrolling San Francisco’s seamy waterfront district, the “Barbary Coast.” He is dissatisfied with his job and his life. Blackburn is permanently assigned to the dangerous district, a strip of “bottom-feeder saloons and dead-end flophouses.” Since he lost his young wife and daughter during childbirth, a year ago, the police chief deems the sergeant’s life more expendable than the lives of his fellow colleagues, who have families and more to lose if business gets really rough.

Aside from the normal violence the sergeant deals with every night, a string of heinous murders is terrifying even the toughest Barbary Coast inhabitant. A serial killer, known as “The Surgeon,” is on the loose and hard at work. The murderer, thought to be a woman, kills her victims, all men, by knifing them at the back of the neck, splitting the spinal cords with a thick blade. She finishes the job, postmortem, by castrating her victims with precision and skill. Not a single corpse was robbed. On several occasions, a “small framed woman” was seen hurrying away from the crime scene.

As Blackburn wends his way back to the station, the ground rocks beneath his feet, throwing him to the ground. The massive tremors, heaving streets, enormous fires, the victims’ screams, the terrible destruction and death, are vividly described by the author. The chaos is unimaginable. Many of the city’s inhabitants believe that the Great Earthquake is the day of reckoning for the immoral masses, especially for those along the Barbary Coast.

For hours before the earthquake hits, and for a short time afterwards, twelve year-old Shane Nightingale, hides in the kitchen cupboard and witnesses the violent deaths of his adoptive mother and sisters at the hands of a brutal killer. The earthquake provides cover for the monster, as he takes the time to overturn tables, chairs and a large breakfront on top of the dead woman, making it look like they were killed during the quake. Shane is traumatized and filled with guilt at not having saved his new mother and foster sisters.

The boy wanders the streets and meets Sergeant Blackburn under the most unusual of circumstances. For me, the relationship between the boy and the lonely cop is the heart of the story – believable, fascinating and touching. As Blackburn discovers, Shane has a real knack for crime solving. The policeman wonders what kind of prior existence Shane has lived to understand the nature of crime and the minds of those who commit them.

The pace is fast and picks up even more as the city’s inhabitants cope with the earthquakes aftermath and the police, Blackburn in particular, track down the “Surgeon” before she/he can kill again.

This historical thriller is loaded with suspense. The characters are well developed and sympathetic, except for the serial killer, of course. It is a relatively short book but loaded with surprises – lots of twists and turns. And author Anthony Flacco’s afterward, called “Dossier: The Last Nightingale” is fascinating. Highly recommended.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 6 readers
PUBLISHER: Ballantine Books (June 12, 2007)
REVIEWER: Jana L. Perskie
AMAZON PAGE: The Last Nightingale
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Anthony Flacco
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another historical serial killer:

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

More books set in historical San Francisco:

The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer

Sister Noon by Karen Joy Fowler

The Daughter of Joy by JoAnn Levy



July 24, 2009 · Judi Clark · 2 Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: California, Facing History, Mystery/Suspense, Reading Guide

2 Responses

  1. sharlene martin - July 25, 2009

    As Anthony Flacco’s agent, I was thrilled to read your review of the Last Nightingale. As a thank you, please email me your address as we’d like to send you a galley of his upcoming book, The Road Out of Hell: Sanford Clark and the True Story of The Wineville Murders.

  2. MFadmin - July 25, 2009

    HI Sharlene!

    I’m glad you found our review… and thanks for your offer. As we review “mostly fiction” — let me see if I can find a reviewer for this true crime book.. I’ll be in touch with an address as soon as I find someone to assign it to.

    Judi Clark, Editor

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