“Murphy’s Law – Molly Murphy #1” by Rhys Bowen

Entertaining cosy mystery set mostly in New York City at the start of the twentieth century. An odd mix of optimism, romanticising of the Irish and harsh historical detail.

Six years before Rhys Bowen published the first book of the “Her Royal Spyness” series, she gave us “Murphy’s Law” the first book of the Molly Murphy Mysteries. “Murphy’s Law” won the Agatha Award for Best Novel in 2001 and the series is now seventeen novels strong.

I listened to the book on a couple of long drives across the UK. It entertained me, told me a few things I didn’t know, occasionally annoyed me, often made me smile at the mixture of bravado and naivety of the main character and kept me wanting to find out whodunnit right to the end. All-in-all, not a bad experience for a cosy mystery.

Molly, on the run from Ireland for killing the son of an English landowner, flees to America via a series of events that Rhys Bowen cleverly engineers to make her new life in New York City as complicated as possible. Then she gets involved in a couple more deaths, comes to the attention of an NYPD detective and ends up trying to solve a crime on her own to clear the name of a friend.

Molly is a larger-than-life, slightly atavistic character, who sometimes teeters on the edge of cliché but never quite falls off. She’s fierce and kind and has a mouth that always gets her into trouble. To some extent, she’s protected by her own innocence, which prevents her from fully understanding the dangers of walking into a bar in Hell’s Kitchen and asking questions about a local man.

Although this a cosy mystery in an historical setting, not all of the book is cosy. Beneath the, slightly irritating ah-now-aren’t-the-Irish-lovely surface, Rhys Bowen gives a fairly stark picture of travelling across the Atlantic locked up in storage class, of being processed through the newly rebuilt Ellis Island building at the mercy of well-meaning doctors who could send you home and sometimes corrupt guardians who could steal what little you had, living in the over-crowded, unsanitary, dehumanising tenements and the corrupting power of the Irish political lobby and their dominance of the police.

The series had a fresh feel to it and energy enough to make me interested in reading the next book in the series “The Death Of Riley”.

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