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?

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