Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Last Stop in Brooklyn

Title:  Last Stop in Brooklyn:  A Mary Handley Mystery
Author:  Lawrence H. Levy
Publication Information:  Broadway Books. 2018. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0451498445 / 978-0451498441

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "On December 4, 1891, Russell Sage had a hunch."

Favorite Quote:  "Change has to start somewhere ... Who knows? Maybe honesty and fairness will catch on and push aside the greed and violence that have gripped our country."

This book is the third in the series of Mary Handley mysteries. All are set in the 1890s in Brooklyn, New York. Interestingly, for all its layers, the one thing the book does not bring to life in detail is the place. A lot of the book is set in and around Coney Island - the last stop in Brooklyn. At this time in history, Coney Island was one of the larges amusement parks in the country. Millions of visitors flocked to Coney Island every year. This book is more about New York political history than about Coney Island, however.

Mary Handley is Brooklyn's first female private detective. As such, she fights social norms with her profession and her independence. While Mary does not work for the New York Police Department (NYPD), she is connected in positive and negative ways with the work of the police. Some try and use her skill in solving crimes; some would rather not have her investigate where they feel she does not belong.

The books are also connected to the history of Brooklyn and New York. Real historical figures feature in the books. In this book, that translates to Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States. Interestingly, about a decade before he became President, Mr. Roosevelt served as the President of the New York Board of Police Commissioners. In that position, he was responsible for introducing significant reforms to address the corruption within the Police Department. In this work, Mr. Roosevelt was assisted by journalist and photographer Jacob Riis who also makes an appearance in this book along side of some of New aristocracy.

The plot of the book has many layers of mystery. Mary starts off investigating what seems like a relatively straight forward adultery case. From that, she get involved in a cold case about the murder of a prostitute. A man was sent to jail, but was it the right man? From that comes a pattern of similar murders all the way to a relatively recent one. That leads Mary much deeper into a plot that suggests corruption at the highest level of the Police Department. In the background is Mary's family and personal life and the historical prejudices and divides of the time.

The focal point of the story is clearly the history of corruption and prejudice. The solution to the prostitute murders, when finally revealed, seems almost tangential. To me, the different story lines do not tie together into a cohesive whole although the story lines do stem from the same set of murders. However, one - the identity of the murderer - goes very personal, and the other - the police handling of the cases - goes very societal. As such, they seem independent of each other.

What is eerie about this book is how current it sounds. The setting is Brooklyn in the 1890s, but so many of the conversations could be and are taking place today. Part of the reason is that the tone of the book is very modern compared to the time period. Part of it is the fact that the issues remain relevant today. Race relations. Immigration. Corruption. Prejudice. Women's equality. The names and the faces have changed, but sadly, many of the conversations remain.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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