Thursday, December 07, 2006

Murder in the North End - P. B. Ryan

Murder in the North End
A Gilded Age Mystery
P. B. Ryan
Berkley Prime Crime


In Boston in 1870, Nell Sweeney, an Irish immigrant, occupies a nebulous area of society. As the governess to a wealthy Brahmin family, she’s technically a cut above the rest of the servants. But, as a governess, and an Irish woman, she’s not quite part of the family. Nevertheless, she’s grown absolutely attached to five-year-old Gracie Hewitt, her charge. She’s also struck up an unusual friendship with William Hewitt, the adult son of the household. To keep tongues from wagging, they’ve let the story get around that William is courting Nell. Of course, this is not possible, for a variety of reasons, but it keeps the rumors at bay.

On the morning before the household is to leave for their summer lodgings, a constable arrives to see Nell. This particular constable was, until recently, a detective. That is, until the Boston Detective Bureau was shut down due to almost universal corruption. The only detective not fired or demoted was Colin Cook. The previous evening, a crook was murdered in the North End. The prime suspect is Cook. Not only does Nell know Cook, another Irishman, but she knows the North End; a crowded place, teeming with Irish immigrants living in deplorable conditions. Nell knows that Cook had nothing to do with the killing. She’s ready to investigate, but Will isn’t about to let her go it alone.

This is the latest in a unique and enjoyable series. The necessary background is easily dispensed with, making it easy for newcomer and longtime reader alike. The author uses the historical period to great advantage, depicting the class separations and prejudices that existed at the time without romanticizing them. Nell and Will are both fascinating characters. From wholly disparate backgrounds, they should have no common ground. But they each have past pains and secrets that allow them to understand each other. They make a great sleuthing team, as well. It’s always a good day when a new Nell Sweeney book arrives.

Rating: 8
November 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21295-5 (paperback)


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