Never before have I attempted to avoid spoilers in an academic book review. The Woman on the Windowsill unpacks a crime no less perplexing and shocking to the modern-day reader than it was to Guatemala City officials in 1800: a mutilated pair of female breasts artfully left on the windowsill of a wealthy resident's home. Sylvia Sellers-García allows the story to unfold in whodunit style, but this book is unambiguously nonfiction. It is not really even about the place and time in which the crime took place, although we learn valuable things about both. This is primarily, elegantly, a book about the historian's craft.

Reminiscent of both microhistorical and mentalité approaches of the 1980s and 1990s, Sellers-García focuses not on solving the crime (though she admits she is as curious as the next person) but on exploring what it signified according to...

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