Book review: Death at the Fair

 Death at the Fair:
An Emily Cabot Mystery

Death at the Fair
Death at the Fair
Frances McNamara
Publisher: Allium Press
Pub. Date: 2009


Pages: 215
Mystery & Detective /Historical

Source: Brought from the author during Chicago Printers Row Lit Fest, 2014


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= Available through Amazon, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, etc.


This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

         New author challenge  2014 historical fiction   my-kind-of-mystery-2014


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As I explained in a recent post, I met Frances McNamara at Chicago Printers Row Lit Fest back in June. As I enjoy historical novels and historical mysteries, I thought I would try her series with Emily Cabot, especially as several books of the series are set in Chicago itself. So here is my review of the first book in the series, Death at the Fair, set during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Emily Cabot reminisces when she visited the Chicago 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, aka the White City, back when she was 24, and a sociology student in Chicago. When visiting the fair with relatives and friends, she met people seeming to hide something.  When Dr Stephen Chapman, a professor who healed her when she was very sick, got accused of a murder, she did not hesitate to plunge into a dangerous world of lies and scandals to do all she could to clear his name. But can a young female student achieve this noble goal amidst a world ripe with corruption? You will have to read the book to figure it out.

In this book, I first really enjoyed all the descriptions of the exposition, with the buildings, the ambiance, the clothes of the people. Incidentally, in the Afterword, the author provides the link to a fabulous 3D simulation of the Fair as it was. Just incredible! As you know, only one building was left, all the others were destroyed and burnt when the Fair was over, so I love books helping us to try to imagine what it must have been like.

I read somewhere that Illinois has the record of number of governors sent to prison. Corruption in the Windy City is nothing new, and McNamara did a great job with that aspect. Though sometimes quite complex, the book gives a great background on local politics, on the shady dealings of Chicago politicians, in relation to the world of gambling, and the huge funds involved in the Fair. The mayor of Chicago ended up being killed on the last day of the Fair, and this is inserted in the plot of this historical mystery.

There is also a lot going on about the relationships between Blacks and Whites, and between  North and South (Illinois vs. Kentucky).

Many characters involved, it may get a bit complicated if you don’t keep track of them.
But this is a good historical mystery. Four more volumes in the series have been published, Death at Chinatown should be a good one as well.

VERDICT: This short novel set in Chicago 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition will be of interest to lovers of the White City, of history and mystery. Nice combination packed with many details related to local politics and issues of the time that could still be very relevant today.


The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition provides a vibrant backdrop for this exciting new mystery. Emily Cabot is one of the first women graduate students at the University of Chicago, eager to prove herself in the emerging field of sociology. While she is busy exploring the Exposition with her family and friends, her colleague, Dr. Stephen Chapman, is accused of murder. Emily sets out to search for the truth behind the crime, but is thwarted by the gamblers, thieves, and corrupt politicians who are ever-present in Chicago. A lynching that occurred in the dead man’s past leads Emily to seek the assistance of the black activist Ida B. Wells. Rich with historical details that bring turn-of-the-century Chicago to life, this novel will appeal equally to history buffs and mystery fans.  [on the publisher’s web page]



with Frances McNamaraFrances McNamara grew up in Boston,
where her father served as Police Commissioner for ten years.
She has degrees from Mount Holyoke and Simmons Colleges,
and is now a librarian at the University of Chicago.
When not working or writing
she can be found sailing on Lake Michigan

Follow Frances on her website





8 thoughts on “Book review: Death at the Fair

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