My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I won this from goodreads in exchange for a review and it doesn't affect my review. In fact, I wish I hadn't won this one. If you look at my reviews they're generally 3 stars and up because I don't waste time on bad books. I'll be honest the second star is me being generous. This book wasn't very good. Yes Mr. Levy has a great writing track record but Emmy nominated sit-com writing in the late 80s and 90s did not translate well to historical novel writing.
And it's not just a matter of me not being the right audience. I'm a huge fan of historical mysteries. It makes up a good third of all my mystery reading if not me. Where Mr. Levy's script writing comes through is the dialog. That is decent enough but the rest is flat as three day old Coke, which incidentally plays a role in this. I think that's what bothers me most. I never once connected with Mary Handley and she often comes across as emotionless and not-quite-believable.
If you hate books that head hop, you can stop now. The point of view characters can whip back and forth fast enough to give you whiplash in some scenes.
The author talks about the research used in this and how he chose to show parts of history people might not know and I think this is another place that it went askew. I'm a Tesla fan. Yes, he made bad choices, yes he and Edison hated each other but in this Tesla comes across as a childish, socially inept, occasionally drunken idiot. Yeah, probably not.
Anyhow we have Mary whose mother hates she's not the typical later 1880s woman out to get a man. Mary had a Chinese girlfriend growing up and her friend, Tina's dad taught her Jujitsu. Mary's brother is cop. And at age 12 Mary saw a dead man on a train and saw a man known only as Bowler Hat through the novel, leaving and guesses he hung the man. It didn't feel at all like a young girl finding a dead body (and oddly I buy that in the Flavia de Luce books because Flavia is a more well rounded character with emotions). In fact there is no emotional impact on Mary, no more than we'll see later when she's shot at, stabbed, beaten etc.
Mary is hired on to be the first woman detective in Brooklyn (about 25 years before that really happened) mostly because she happened to be at the right place at the right time and it's done merely to satisfy the press it's being done. Everyone but Chief Campbell wants her to fail. Naturally the male cops turn their back on her and her case isn't going to be an easy one, the murder of Charles Goodrich, the brother of a wealthy politican who was shot in his apartment and he might have had a journal incriminating Thomas Edison in shady business deals.
Charles was the fiancee of Mary's friend,Kate so Mary has even more reason to work the case. However all her suspects are insanely powerful. Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, JP Morgan, Goodrich himself. The book is one long name dropping session.
Mary does take several good beatings but the only one that seems to make an emotional impact is when someone knocks her out and makes it appear she's drunk. We also have a few unrealistic scenes, like Mary shimmying out of her petticoats to run after a bad guy as if that wouldn't give him time to run off. And really petticoats aren't that binding. Her bustle and corset would be the things that would keep her from running though I don't think she wears those. I did nearly stop reading when Mary saw bullets richoceting in time to avoid them. Yes richocets travel slower than a fired bullet but often only 10=20% less fast. It seems very unlikely she could see them and dodge them.
And I felt like Bowler Hat added nothing. His scenes were long, mostly to show he's a bad ass and his employer is ruthless. But if you took him out much wouldn't have been lost. I felt much the same with Mary's love story with the makers of Coca-Cola. maybe it would have been better if this didn't depend so heavily on telling instead of showing.
Spoilers here after
Even Mary solving the case felt contrived. She's sent on a wild goose chase and by mere accident she stops in a store than solves the case and only because someone there tells her things no one would probably tell a stranger with no prompting.
Mary's naivete doesn't play well either and in some cases not that believable. Surely even then a nearly penniless former seamstress turned detective would know she couldn't take down someone as powerful as Edison or Morgan as the cheats they were.
I believe Mary's story is a series but Second street Station is my stop. I'm getting off the train.
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