The series writer who manages to write many books with the same characters and settings, keeping things vivid, fresh, and interesting, is performing a difficult feat. Rhys Bowen does this with not just one, but two, series, and she continues to be solidly entertaining in every way while still maintaining the integrity of her series and her writer-ly vision. Her Molly Murphy series, now fifteen books in, still is a delight in every way.
Even though Molly is now a married wife and a mother, Bowen has managed not to dilute the pleasant tension between characters that keeps a series interesting. She and Daniel are married, yes, but Daniel and his mother are none too fond of Molly’s friends Sid and Gus; and Daniel is not amenable to Molly continuing to work as a private detective. Molly finds ways to investigate anyway—she can’t help herself—but it seems like the way it would happen, as Molly manages to (more or less) appease both her husband and her mother-in-law.
In this novel, through no fault of her own, Molly and little Liam are on an elevated train which has a horrific crash. She and Liam both survive the crash (of course), though Molly is injured with bruised ribs and a concussion. In the last novel Molly’s house had burned down; in this one, Daniel has rebuilt it but they still need things like sheets, towels, pots and pans. Daniel brings his mother in from the country to help out. Molly is torn—she’d like to select her own things—but she does need the help and in fact it leaves her with some freedom to investigate.
As a suffragette gathering at Sid and Gus’, Molly meets a Vassar classmate of theirs whose niece has recently come to live with her after her parents were killed in a fire. The young girl is having disturbing dreams and Gus, fresh from Vienna and some seminars with a Professor Freud, is eager to see if she can help and interpret the girl’s dreams. The three of them visit the girl but quickly discover she needs more expert help than Gus can offer, and they begin a search for a qualified alienist, though no one in America is interpreting dreams in 1905.
Daniel has a knotty case of his own, which he tells Molly about and she’s slowly drawn into that as well. His case concerns an apparently unrelated string of murders, only connected by creepy notes sent to Daniel at the police station. One of them mentions the crash Molly was in and it’s his fear for her safety that causes him to share details of the case with her. Molly’s mother-in-law, a policeman’s widow herself, disapproves of this or even of any discussion of Daniel’s work, so the married couple has to “meet” alone in the front parlor of their own home to talk things over.
Through the book is threaded a theme of dreams—since the crash Molly is having some terrible ones, and the niece of Sid and Gus’ friend is plagued by nightmares. Before Molly knows it she’s enmeshed in the girl’s dreams, her own dreams, the quest for a qualified alienist, as well as Daniel’s insoluble case, which seems to be a dangerous threat either to Molly, Daniel, or both of them.
Along with her other talents, Bowen is a first class mystery plotter, and she creates a tricky and engaging story, all while making it look easy. Only really good writers can pull that off. As in every novel, the thread holding the books together is the appealing Molly herself—you know she’ll get the bad guy in the end. As Bowen pulls her story threads together at the end of the book you probably won’t be able to stop reading. I certainly couldn’t.