You can’t keep a feisty Irish woman down. Immigrant Molly Murphy takes on New York’s Tammany Hall and triumphs.
In Murphy’s Law, the first of the Molly Murphy series, Rhys Bowen gives us a glimpse of the hard life of immigrants in New York City at the start of the twentieth century. Manhattan might seem glamourous now, but the Lower East Side was once part of the hard-scrabble life of desperate immigrants crammed into tenement buildings.
The last time I was in New York, I visited the Tenement Museum off of Delancey Street. The museum has converted two old structures back to tenement houses. Between 1863 and 2011, 15,000 people lived in those two buildings. Historically-restored apartments indicate the number of people per square foot. As Bowen shows us in the novel, sleeping on every chair or sofa, or any available floor space was the norm. Privacy was unthinkable. Can you imagine?
In a time before flush toilets, Bowen delicately writes about using the outhouse in the yard behind the tenement. She leaves it up to the reader to imagine how disgustingly filthy it had to have been. I love clean bathrooms, don’t you?
Molly has escaped Ireland with a free steamship ticket to New York. Her ticket isn’t to the posh rooms for the rich, but to the cramped quarters below steerage for the poor. Even when the ship lands in the New York harbor and the rich are escorted off, the poor must wait for processing in Ellis Island.
In the new 1901 Ellis Island building, a man is stabbed to death, and Molly accidently encounters the killer. When a shipboard friend is arrested for the murder, she must do all she can to find the killer herself.
With no money, Molly initially moves into a crowded tenement, but must ward off an occupant’s sexual pass. Bowen touches on the issue of sexuality in the time of very limited birth control. An accidental pregnancy could be financially devastating.
In pursuit of a murder suspect, Molly fakes her way into being hired as a maid in a sumptuous mansion of the rich. The contrast between rich and poor could not be starker. Molly must grovel, but the servants’ food is vastly better than anything she’d eaten since she’d come to New York. It made me reflect on the contrast between rich and poor today.
Molly’s going to rise in New York society in coming books. Currently, Bowen has 18 Molly Murphy books in the series.
This book is for readers who love historical mysteries, or anyone curious about old New York. Bowen touches on many aspects of life in the 1900s, but never stays long enough to detract from the mystery.
Want to chat about Murphy’s Law? Let’s connect on Facebook!
Like the Book or Mysteries in General? Want to Enter my Drawing for Free Books? Join My Book Club!
This book will be included in my upcoming book club drawing. If you’re on my email list, you are automatically entered into the book club drawings. If you’re not, click here to sign up, and if you know anyone else who’d love to join the book club, please share the link with them too (thank you!).
Till next time,