Jane Smiley’s newest novel, A DANGEROUS BUSINESS, set in Gold Rush California in 1851, is a murder mystery featuring two young prostitutes who follow a trail of missing and murdered girls. Eliza Ripple’s husband was killed in a bar fight, and though she doesn’t much miss him, the only way she can support herself is by going to work in a brothel. The men are relatively behaved, and those that aren’t are kicked out by the madam, Mrs. Parks, or her strong arm, Carlos. Her friend Jean works in a brothel across town that services women, a more genteel clientele. Eliza and Jean are inspired by reading Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Murder in the Rue Morgue” and they study the techniques of the amateur detective, Dupin. Piecing together the clues, characters, and likely motivations, the young detectives sleuth their way into a dangerous situation.
Eliza and Jean are determined to make their way in a world that caters to men, and have been cautioned by Mrs. Parks that their work, and even their being (that of being female in a male world), is dangerous business.
This story of an unlikely pair of detectives, inspired by one of literatures first detectives, is a window into the world of mid-nineteenth century women living in a male-dominated world and the rough and tumble world of prospectors, sailors, and the Wild West of a bygone era.
Recommended for fans of detective and historical fiction with a strong sense of place. This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my interview with Jane Smiley on December 22 at 7:00 pm on WTIP Radio, 90;7 Grand Marais or stream it from the web at http://www.wtip.org. Listen to all my author interviews on the fourth Thursday of the month at 7:00 pm on WTIP Radio 90.7 Grand Marias or stream it from the web at http://www.wtip.org.