Review: Murphy’s Law by Rhys Bowen

You know how sometimes you’re reading a book, and the first chapter or three, or four just doesn’t feel right? I’m not talking a slow start, exactly, but it feels perfunctory? One of my favorite books, The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly (the sequel to which has been released in Europe but won’t be here until January and I’m very growly about it), was like that. Like, here’s the backstory, here are the characters, and here’s the conflict that will be with us the whole book.

And then the writer gets to the story? And you can tell the writer likes this new part better than the old part because there’s so much more umph?

Yeah. The first few chapters of this book struck me that way. I think I notice it a lot because it’s one of my big problems. I’m still not happy with part of the first chapter, but I don’t have enough smarts to fix what feels off about it. I also think it’s a bigger problem for historical fiction writers. An embarras de richesses, if you’ll pardon my French. We’re given so very much to work with and so much that deserves to be mentioned or highlighted, that it’s hard to find equilibrium between the plot and the setting. But once you get to the point in your manuscript where they combine, things start moving very, very smoothly, and it’s much easier to write.

It’s also frustrating to a critical reader when the narrative is in first person and there’s still no voice. But that, too, was corrected once the story hit its stride.
Those were the standout problems. I’ve read a bunch of Lower East Side / immigrant stories the past two year, and even though Ellis Island is gorgeous and important, I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of half a book set on the immigrant station and half of it set in the LES again. I AM NOT DISSING THE LES! I visit the LES every time I go to New York, sometimes I stay there — it’s awesome, and therein lies the problem: every turn-of-the-century NYC book deals with it, and they all portray it through the glasses Jake Riis gave us in How the Other Half Lives. So while the struggle is very familiar to me, I’m not really wanting to hear an author whine about how horrible the tenement situation was.

Rhys Bowen didn’t do this. She stuck to her story, she told the story, and she flavored the story with rest of the city–even the West Side! And I really appreciated it. And her Ellis Island portions were great, too. There was story amid the setting, and setting amid the story, and that’s the kind of book I like to read.

And Daniel Sullivan is hotter than Frank Malloy. But I still love Malloy.

In all, I really enjoyed it, and I’ll be reading the next of the Molly Murphy series…after I finish the Gaslight series, of course. Kimmy, I’ll hand over this one tomorrow!

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