In a Gilded Cage, Rhys Bowen, St. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95.
There isn't much more fun to be had between the covers of a book than in one by Rhys Bowen. In turn she supplies great characters, suspense, humor, a sense of time and place (early 1900's New York) and a narrative drive that can't be beat. Now 19 books into a steady career, this is hardly a surprise, but it's still a delight. Her latest addition to her Molly Murphy oeuvre is no exception to her streak of terrific writing.
In this outing, Molly has just recovered from the influenza that's sweeping through New York, and she's taken on two new clients, both thanks to her next door neighbors, Sid and Gus. Sid and Gus live across the street and are both Vassar graduates who drag Molly along to an Easter parade where they march with other Vassar graduates in support of women's suffrage. And from there, Bowen's story grows—organically, just like the great Agatha Christie was able to do before her.
One case involves a now impoverished Vassar graduate, Emily, who though trained as a pharmacist, works at the counter of a drug store because the owner doesn't want to put a woman in charge of any drugs. Her boyfriend Ned works there too, though he of course is allowed to work in his chosen profession. Emily, the daughter of missionaries who died in China when she was young, was raised by a wealthy uncle who has now washed his hands of her. Saying she's of legal age, he assumes no more responsibility for her. As a result she desperately wants to find some kind of family connection, and she hires Molly to find out anything she can about her parents.
Molly's other client is a wealthier Vassar grad, Fanny Poindexter, who has made an apparently desirable marriage but who, it turns out, has suspicions that her dashing (and penniless) husband is cheating on her. Before Molly can give her the confirmation of her suspicious, Fanny dies of influenza. Emily is sure there's more to Fanny's death than the flu, and she and Molly begin to explore the possibilities of poison, their only clue being a significant loss of hair right before Fanny died.
Like Christie, Bowen doesn't shy away from a high body count, and in this novel the Vassar girls and their friends are dropping like flies. As Molly uncovers the truth behind Emily's parentage, the pieces of the rest of the puzzle begin to fall into place. As crisply as the story begins, Bowen wraps it up, with a little satisfying bit about Molly's own personal life to end the story. As usual, I can't wait for the next installment.
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