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.

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