Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Second Street Station: A Mary Handley Mystery

I've said to friends that I would not have done well in earlier time periods, because I am too outspoken and the whole issue of women's rights and their place in society would have made me very frustrated. The character of Mary Handley would agree with me and probably offer to swap places with me, so that she could be a police detective here in the twenty-first century. Beginning with the suspicious death of a man on a train when she was 12, Mary has always been an intrigued by the art of detection. Despite her mother's limited views on what is proper for a young lady, Mary longs to do something more than find the right man and settle down to have children. At the beginning of the story, she is working in a New York sweatshop making hats. But the murder of a neighbor's fiance brings her to the attention of the Chief of Police just as pressure is coming from City Hall to do something to appease the female protesters lobbying for women's rights and equal treatment.

So, Mary is hired as the first female detective to work a case involving the New York City Police. Despite the cold shoulder treatment from the policemen, her mother's disapproval, and even attempts on her life, Mary takes the case and doggedly pursues it. Her investigation has her mixing with tycoons like JP Morgan; inventors like Tesla, Edison, and Pemberton (the inventor of Coca-Cola); and former Pinkerton agents turned private security. She has to borrow a gown from her friend Sarah to attend an event at the Mayor's home, but she also follows clues into the Bowery and unlikely places such as the fish market and various taverns. Doing everything from commandeering a horse-drawn trolley, to using jujitsu on an assassin, Mary proves she has just as much courage and intelligence as any of the detectives on the force. 

The historical details about tenements, women's fashions, and even popular wines of the time all bring the period to life, sometimes in gruesome detail. Viewers of today's detective shows will marvel at how investigators of the late 19th century managed to follow leads and confirm alibis without the use of cell phones, the Internet, or email and databases. The casual use of cocaine and morphine during that time are also in contrast to today's more controlled access to the substances. 

Mary is a likable protagonist, with strengths and faults that show her as human, rather than an idealized caricature. Her occasional use of profanity betrays her temper, but she also has a soft side for her friends. The innate loyalty that is one of her traits is shown repeatedly, and so is her stubbornness. I hope that the author creates more adventures for Mary very soon. Fans of characters such as Mary Russell (Laurie King) and Irene Adler (Carole Nelson Douglas) may have a new heroine to add to their "to be read" piles.

You can find biographical details about the author on the publisher's website. And here is information  from the publisher about the book itself.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Oh, my! Here is the cover for Mary's next outing, scheduled for a January 2016 release.

Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy

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