Sunday, August 21, 2011

Where the ragged people go

Unlike Rhys Bowen's Lady Georgiana series, which it took me two books to start to appreciate, I instantly loved the Molly Murphy series. Maybe it's the simple difference between a destitute immigrant protagonist and a royal one, even if they're both intelligent and plucky. Whatever the reason, I really like this mystery series.

Books 2 and 3 have our heroine attempting to start her own detective business.

In Death of Riley, Molly manages to convince a local detective to hire her as his office assistant, though she wants to be his apprentice; when he is murdered, she takes over his business and hunts down his killer, who also turns out to be President McKinley's assassin. (She couldn't stop him in time, though part of me wonders what if? How would the 21st century have panned out if Teddy Roosevelt hadn't first inherited the Oval Office?) While chasing crooked cops and retracing her boss' last footsteps through the seedy parts of the Big Apple, Molly manages to ingratiate herself with the counter-culture Greenwich Village artist, feminist, socialist, and LGBT crowds.

In For the Love of Mike, Molly gets her first two legitimate cases as a detective (which of course turn out to be related): find a missing Irish heiress, and figure out which garment factory worker is stealing clothing designs and giving them to a rival shop owner. In the process, she helps organize a strike for better working conditions in factories - my kind of chick!

I think I love this mystery series because I like how Molly's investigations lead her to all parts of New York, which reflect all parts of America. As an Irish immigrant, she finds herself connected to the power structure of Tammany Hall and the police beat but also the hard labor experiences of the fish market, garment factories, brothels and bars, and gang protection; unlike Italian or Jewish immigrants at the time, she has a jarring but believable ability to move fluidly between social classes and neighborhoods - as a maid, a lady's companion, a garment worker, a union striker. In the third book, she goes to jail several times (mistaken as a prostitute, mistaken as a murder suspect, and for striking) - and I'm enjoying reading her character development as a somewhat naive but also somewhat privileged immigrant (she's educated) who is slowly learning the ropes of American justice, American double standards, American determination, and American dreams.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Brains in your head and feet in your shoes

And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along. You’ll start happening too. . .
- Dr. Seuss, Oh! The Places You'll Go
Today was one of the most awesome, unplanned adventurous days I've had in a very long time. I got out of my comfort zone; I challenged myself; and I surmounted unexpected obstacles.

A friend suggested paddleboarding - which I mistook as pedal boating and didn't find out until we got to the lake. Since I was prepared to sit on my ass and pedal leisurely (not stand and balance on a surf board and paddle), it was quite a leap for me to go along with the activity. Once on the water, though, it proved to be incredibly fun - I was first to climb aboard and the last to disembark!

Next up, I climbed in a 60+-foot rock wall. Because the past two weeks have been intensely emotionally draining, it was something I felt I needed to do to symbolize moving forward - alone and whole. It freaked me out, but I worked through the anxiety and fear and my perceived inability to complete the task. Once I broke past the paralyzing "ZOMG I can't do this" attitude, I powered through, rang the bell at the top of the wall, and belayed down to the bottom.

I'm not going to lie, it was scary until I reached the bottom. I was shaking when I took the gear off, but ultimately I was proud of myself for finishing the course and trusting myself to accomplish something scary and new.

Then I packed bread and cheese and met up with some friends to watch the sun set at a woodsy, isolated park in Seattle. We walked around the trails and on the beach, ate, and then promptly got lost in the dark once the sun went down. We ended up wandering around the trails, lost in the forest in complete darkness. (Luckily, we had a headlamp.) We were three safety-conscious women alone in a huge, pitch-black park where bad things have been known to happen. We meandered around for about 6 miles, but in the end found the correct dark, sketchy, after-hours parking lot and drove home, safe and sound.

I generally dislike it when people use the phrase "at the end of the day" in a sentence. However, it's entirely appropriate in this context.

The last half of this summer has not been what I anticipated or hoped it would be. The next few weeks will be immensely difficult, both professionally and personally, and I have no idea where I will be in a month or two or six.

But at the end of the day - after trying new things, having faith in myself, and trusting friends - I know I have an incredible amount of strength and courage that I don't always recognize or utilize. I''ll be okay. I'll survive.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Blood, toil, tears, and sweat

In the last of Rhys Bowen's Lady Georgiana mystery series, the entire cast is trapped in a blizzard in a creepy Transylvanian castle for a wedding. Like the third book (which over-cheesed the Scottishness), this fourth one is pretty campy: vampire tales, trap doors in staircases, Balkan feuds, a Robespierre-like head of the secret police, and superstitious townspeople. And just like the third book, I loved this one too. It was horribly delightful; the cast of characters was Christie-esque. And unlike the previous books, the plot finally didn't revolve around spying on Wallis Warfield-Simpson for the Queen of England.

Since I finished the Lady Georgiana series, I moved on to another one by Rhys Bowen: the Molly Murphy books. And though I like both protagonists from the two series, they couldn't be further apart on the social scale: one is 34th in line to the British throne in the 1930s, and the other is an Irish immigrant to New York City at the beginning of the 20th century.

It's like the adult murder mystery version of American Girls... except that the heroines all hail from the British Isles.

Having finally visited Ellis Island myself a few years ago, I could visualize the processing procedures the characters had to endure. The most heartbreaking part of the story was that a fellow Irishwoman gives Molly her identity and boat ticket to take her two small children to America to be with their father; the woman is dying of tuberculosis and would never be allowed into the U.S. It did, actually, remind me of a lot of the heartbreaking stories you can read on Ellis Island - of refugees turned away or families split up if not everyone passed through the immigration inspection.

At any rate, it's a good start to a murder mystery series. The main characters are all lovable and colorful and believable. As an immigrant tale, it's not so bad, either - the plucky heroine tries to apply for jobs everywhere but discovers that immigrants are divided in the labor market by ethnicity, and that Tammany Hall sometimes makes being Irish a benefit.
There are certainly little impossible and improbable twists and turns as the characters try to solve a murder amid Irish home rule sympathizers, tenement housing, and rigid gender expectations... but then what's a New York story without a little suspension of the rules?