Elizabeth Miles is a woman living in the early twentieth century, a woman living by her wits, a con artist who specializes in separating men from their money. She’s also the protagonist of City of Lies by Victoria Thompson, new historical fiction at The Field Library, and she’s going to take you on a wild ride.
Elizabeth has many names and many identities and up till now she’s been pretty successful as a grifter, but at the beginning of the book she discovers to her horror that she’s badly misjudged her mark. Oscar Thornton, it turns out, is not just some stupid, easily befuddled rich man but a powerful criminal in his own right, and he is NOT pleased to have some young woman steal from him. He is, in fact, so displeased that he and his minions are chasing Elizabeth down after having already caught and beaten up (and possibly even killed) her fellow con artist and brother.
What can she do? Well, being a young woman of quick wits, Elizabeth discovers a Suffragist march outside the White House, and insinuates herself among the rich women marching for their rights, hoping she can join them in getting arrested. Not that going to jail would be a good thing, but it would be better than getting caught by Thornton and his men. And the authorities are quite annoyed at the ruckus the Suffragists are making, so they are all arrested, Elizabeth among the true believers, and sent to jail and then to the workhouse because there isn’t room for them in jail.
The one thing Elizabeth doesn’t anticipate is that she will find herself treated like a sister and a friend by these women whom she would ordinarily consider just potential marks, slow and stupid. She doesn’t expect to start admiring their intensity, their passion, their determination, and for the first time in her life, she’s finding friendships among women of her age. When two of the women bring her with them to their home in New York, she even begins to find people who are attracted to her (without, of course, their knowing what she really is).
Unfortunately for Elizabeth, Thornton knows these women, too, and is able to track her down in her new residence, and her new life is becoming more and more dangerous, to her and to the women who have taken her in. Will she be able to stay a step ahead of her enemies? Will she fall back into her old life?
City of Lies is filled with vivid depictions of the Suffragist movement (don’t call them Suffragettes; just don’t) and what the women in it were willing to do and endure to win the right to vote. It’s one of those historical novels that makes an era come alive while giving you three dimensional and complicated characters to root for. If you’re at all interested in the Women’s Suffrage movement or the period between World War I and World War II in America, or if you’re interested in feisty, surprising women, check out City of Lies, which happens to be the first book in a projected series (something to rejoice about).