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The Cliff House Strangler (Sarah Woolson Mysteries) Hardcover – July 10, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (July 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312357567
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312357566
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,290,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Plucky lawyer Sarah Woolson arrives at rugged Land's End on a predictably dark and stormy night in Tallman's third entertaining and atmospheric 1880s San Francisco whodunit (after 2005's The Russian Hill Murders). Socialites have gathered at Cliff House for a séance with Madame Karpova, self-proclaimed Russian psychic. She puts on a good show until tell-all columnist Darien Moss decides to spoil the party. Then comes a crash of lightning, the lights go out, and when they come back on, Darien is found garroted with a balalaika string. Sarah, trying to establish herself as San Francisco's first female attorney, turns sleuth with the help of her devoted brother, a crime novelist. Mounting corpses distract Sarah from the miseries of her first client, a single mother whose flight from a drunken husband (legally represented by Sarah's love interest, Robert Campbell) provides a poignant subplot. Tallman throws in some unexpected twists, keeping the reader guessing to the end. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Nineteenth-century feminist lawyer Sarah Woolson (Murder on Nob Hill, 2004, and The Russian Hill Murders, 2005) has just opened her own law firm in San Francisco. While waiting for paying clients, she decides to satisfy her curiosity about spiritualism and do her journalist brother a favor by attending a séance given by Madame Karpova at the Cliff House. Her friend and fellow lawyer Robert Campbell accompanies her. The surroundings are suitably eerie. Cliff House sits on the rocky shore above the Pacific Ocean, and a raging thunderstorm makes the room dark. The attendees include some of San Francisco's elite as well as a less-than-respectable gossip columnist, who ends up dead as the séance and the storm provide cover for the murderer. Sarah finds herself in the middle of a complex case involving Russians, ghosts, corrupt politicians (one of whom is her brother), and City Hall. This is a fine historical series with a strong female sleuth who stands up for herself and plots that raises issues that remain relevant today. Bibel, Barbara

Customer Reviews

A terrific late summertime read, this book is to be enjoyed in any season!
Armchair Interviews
The book is a mixture of subtle clues mixed with historical period details and well developed characters.
C. Smith
My biggest problem with the book, though, comes from not knowing what to make of the writing.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By doc peterson VINE VOICE on July 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
_The Cliffhouse Strangler_, Shirley Tallman's third Sarah Woolson mystery, revolves around a murder at a seance. As Sarah attempts to solve the mystery several participants (and suspects) are murdered, thickening the plot even as the list of possible murderers is narrowed down. While working on "who done it", a charming sub-plot develops between Woolson and her earstwhile love interest, Robert Campbell, as they represent opposing sides in a divorce settlement. What appear to be red-herrings are not necessicarily so, as divergent characters and tangents are in one way or another related to the mystery at hand. This story will keep you guessing to the end.

The historical fiction elements of the book are great- from the descriptions of 1880's San Francisco to the details of dress, an atmosphere of authenticity is lent to the larger mystery itself. Tallman tends to lay on the gender and social inequalities of the period a bit thick at times, ("women are physically and emotionally incapable of comprehending such matters. Go home and knit something and leave business like this to your betters.") but it is exactly the intelligence and strength of characters like Sarah Woolson facing and overcoming these attitudes that draw me to the series.

In the final analysis, its a great summer (or airplane) read - the loose ends are tied up, the wrong-doers get their due, and gradually (begrudgingly) the heroine gets some respect.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Holly-Dolly on July 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The Cliff House Strangler continues the Sarah Woolson series with a great story that provides the many twists & turns that we have come to expect from Ms. Tallman. Her characters & settings convey a story that makes you feel as if you have returned to San Francisco of yesteryear!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jim Duggins, Ph.D. on April 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Shirley Tallman's genius in "The Cliff House Strangler" lies in her connecting all the dots (in this case, the relatives and other characters) but leaking out the true nature of those connections only in the process by which the riddle is solved. The story begins with a seance held by a trio of suspicious-appearing Russians (in 1880, Russians in San Francisco were suspect simply because they were Russian--what else is new?) in the middle of which a seance participant/obnoxious newspaper columnist is garroted with a string from a floating balalaika.

As the plot unwinds, it reveals other family and social issues that are as prominent today as they were 130 years ago--the defined and restricted role of men and women, e.g., the frequent reference to subservience of women as wives and mothers, not professionals. Author Tallman's heroine, attorney-sleuth Sarah Woolson, is clearly more logical and adventurous than men in similar professions but is duly dismissed by men, lawyers and police as well as male and female family members who believe she would be better served if she made herself more available to marriage and settled into housewifery.

While these expected role assumptions might have stalled Sarah Woolson's pursuit of the murdering stalker, Tallman prevents that likelihood by killing off more people both in and out of jail. I personally found the fascinating way she manipulates the somewhat stereotypic characters, chauvinistic men, critical in-laws, and over-protective parents is what saved the novel from itself. Rather than giving in to her critics, Tallman has developed Woolson as a credible and sympathetic attorney-investigator with a mind of her own.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on July 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In the 1880s in San Francisco, attorney Sarah Woolson has left the prestigious firm of Shepard, Shepard, McNaughton, and Hall to begin her own practice over the objection of her lawyer boyfriend Robert Campbell. He objects even louder when she persuades him to accompany her to Cliff House for a séance hosted by Russian psychic Madame Karpova on a stormy night. Eleven guests in all including Senator Gaylord and his wife attend.

Madame Karpova sets the mood and seems to be talking with those from beyond as she performs a dazzling array of parlor tricks. However, uninvited gate crasher columnist Darien Moss whose scorn causes Dmitry Serkov to leave in disgust decides to expose her as a fraud when the lights go out; when they return he is dead strangled by a balalaika string. Sarah investigates with Robert at her side trying to keep her out of trouble while her brother and father abet her efforts even when more séance attendees die.

The third Woolson historical tale is more of a whodunit than a legal thriller though a subplot involving an abused spouse with a child fleeing from an alcoholic husband is stunning. The excitement and sense of time and place remains strong (see MURDER ON NOB HILL and THE RUSSIAN HILL MURDERS). The story line is fast-paced as Sarah seems to be battling ghosts, gypsies, gulls, and government in her effort to uncover the culprit. With homage to Christie's And Then There Was One, readers will wonder who did it and why

Harriet Klausner
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By a reader on September 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"As a matter of fact, despite your obstinacy, your infernal prying, and the fact that you invariably blurt out whatever comes into your head, regardless of the consequences, I admit that there are times when I find you irresistible, too." These words, spoken by irritable Scotsman, Robert Campbell, describe our plucky young heroine, Sarah Woolson, as she makes a name for herself as one of the few female attorneys of her time, late nineteenth century San Francisco.

The third installment of the Sarah Woolson series starts with a bang. In a brougham driven by Eddie Cooper (one of Sarah's latest good deeds), Sarah and her "colleague" Robert venture out in the middle of a thunderstorm to The Cliff House at Lands End to observe a visiting Russian clairvoyant. Sarah's brother, Samuel, has sent his sister on this mission to gather information for an article about the mysterious, Madame Karpova. Mayhem ensues, murders occur, and Sarah finds herself in the middle it all.

While all this is unraveling, Sarah is visited by a perspective client, Alexandra Sechrest, who is seeking custody of her two sons and a divorce from her abusive husband. This case puts Sarah at odds with Robert and at the same time renews Sarah's commitment to help the women of San Francisco get a fair shake in the legal system. There's also the concern that her brother, Senator Frederick Woolson, might have become involved in some nefarious doings that could ruin his career and send him to jail and the worry that Sarah might not survive long enough to defend any of her clients. Through it all, Sarah manages to keep a cool head, help the less fortunate, teach the illiterate, pay social calls, and make time for tea and cakes, provided by good neighbor, Fanny Goodman.
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More About the Author


Even as a small child, Shirley Tallman dreamed of being a writer. Born in Los Angeles, California, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area as a teenager, where she attended junior high and high school. She obtained her BA degree in Radio and Television at San Jose State University, while working as Traffic Manager, script writer and director for KNTV, a local ABC affiliate station.

After college, Shirley flew to the Orient and the South Pacific as a flight attendant for Pan American World Airlines. Never one to waste a great opportunity, she used her travels to fill notebooks with ideas, story-lines and snap shots for future novels.

Juggling marriage, children and her new writing career, Shirley wrote a syndicated newspaper column while working up the courage to tackle that first novel. To her surprise when she finally did write it, it actually sold! To date she's written fifteen books, including ten contemporary Harlequin/Silhouette romances published under the pseudonym Erin Ross. During her "romance" years, she placed #6 on Waldenbooks' national bestseller list, and was nominated as "Best Desire of the Year," by "Romantic Times"!

Currently, Shirley is writing an historical mystery series for St. Martin's Press. The books -- MURDER ON NOB HILL, THE RUSSIAN HILL MURDERS, and the THE CLIFF HOUSE STRANGLER -- feature Sarah Woolson, a feisty nineteenth-century female attorney who squares off against an all-male legal establishment. The fourth book in the series, SCANDAL ON RINCON HILL, will be released on January 5, 2010.

Together with her screenwriting partner, Nancy Hersage, Shirley has written and sold television scripts to NBC, CBS, and ABC. Their movie, "THE BABYSITTER'S SEDUCTION", originally aired on NBC and continues to play regularly on the Lifetime Channel. Their current project, "THE WAR MAGICIAN", was bought for Tom Cruise by Paramount Studios and their story, "LILI", is being produced for the Canadian Broadcast Corporation.

Among other groups, Shirley is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Novelist's Inc., Sisters In Crime, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers' Association, Willamette Valley Writers and the Oregon Writer's Colony.

Shirley welcomes visitors to her website: Check it out for great monthly giveaways, plus some exciting contests coming up to celebrate the release of SCANDAL ON RINCON HILL!!