Evangeline Adams looms large in the world of astrology. Her clientele included such financial power brokers as J. P. Morgan and Charles Schwab, and she predicted the stock market crash in the late 1920s. Adams was tried for fortune telling (still a possibility in some places), but the judge acquitted her, deciding that she had raised astrology “to the dignity of an exact science.”
In The Precious Pachyderm, author Karen Christino takes us into Evangeline Adams’ world in a fictional mystery that uses astrology to solve a murder – a murder in which Adams herself is implicated. The mystery is solved through a combination of old-fashioned detective work and, as expected, astrology.
The story is told mostly through the eyes of Adams’ secretary, Mary, allowing us to view Evangeline Adams from the exterior. This is a good strategy, as Christino avoids trying to get inside of her protagonist’s head, instead giving us the chance to be impressed by Adam’s thinking and alternately warmed and cooled by her personality as we might have if we were working for her in her offices in 1926.
The author does a superb job of painting the mood of the time, so that the reader actually feels his or herself walking into Adam’s offices. You can almost smell the paint on the walls and see the incandescent bulbs glowing behind the art deco wall sconces.
The Precious Pachyderm is a strong contribution to a growing library of New Age Noir fiction. It’s a fun read, too. I read it at the beach in summer, but it would do well on chill autumn nights or any other time you’re in the mood for a good mystery. Like other contributions in this genre, the book also shows a decidedly practical side to astrology, reminding the reader that an understanding of the skies has a place among our ways of addressing some very down-to-earth questions.