Last Stop in Brooklyn
Lawrence H. Levy
It’s 1894 and Mary Handley, New York’s first female detective, has a lot on her plate in this clever historical mystery, the third in the series which features Handley as a fearless and modern-thinking independent woman during a time of major growth and social change. The story begins when Brian Murphy hires Mary to find out whether his wife is having an affair. Simple enough until she finds out what the wife is up to, which pertains to the real attempted assassination of Wall Street magnate and railroad titan Russell Sage. A second case brings Mary face-to-face with powerful industrialists, career politicians and corrupt police investigators involved in a highly publicized murder case and all mired in the complex machine that defines turn-of-the-century New York.
Mary’s new case focuses on the actual murder of Carrie Brown, a prostitute who was brutally killed in the city’s East River Hotel. Rumors were that Jack the Ripper had come to America and NYPD Inspector Thomas F. Byrnes was under pressure to solve the crime quickly. The evidence was circumstantial, but an Algerian named Ameer Ben Ali, who was a regular the hotel, was convicted and sent to prison for life. Mary gets involved when Ameer Ben Ali’s brother hires her to find out the real story.
Much of the investigation takes place on Coney Island, Brooklyn’s last stop, which at the time was the largest amusement park and resort destination in the United States. It attracted all types, wealthy vacationers, immigrants and working-class visitors. It was a perfect place to disappear or hide a crime and when another woman is murdered, this time Meg Parker, a black prostitute from the Gut section of Coney Island, Mary wonders if there is a connection to Carrie Brown’s murder. Subsequent murders that follow a pattern make Mary’s investigation a race against the clock, including the whereabouts of a mysterious man with blond hair. To connect the dots, Mary turns to her old boss, Superintendent Campbell and her police officer brother Sean, who put their jobs at risk to help their favorite lady detective.
I enjoyed this new story, which includes many of the city’s actual movers of the time, including Sage, Andrew Carnegie, Teddy Roosevelt, social reform photographer Jacob Riis and Captain Alexander “Clubber” Williams, a corrupt police inspector whose interrogation methods became known as the “third degree.” Levy does a great job showing what New York was like during the 1890s, highlighting the very topical prejudices and difficulties for the immigrant population. Racism and anti-Semitism as well as hatred towards different cultures, especially Arabs, were common and Levy does not hold back when he depicts these beliefs in several uncomfortable scenes. The author balances these and other gritty, adult scenes with the light banter between Mary and her new love interest, reporter Harper Lloyd.
Readers will also like learning more about Mary and her family dynamics, including her very likable father who works in a butcher shop and her meddling mother who wants nothing more than to see Mary settled. This story line reflects an optimism among Mary’s family, despite the prejudices, danger and violence that surrounds them.
I recommend Last Stop in Brooklyn to readers who like imagining what historical figures were like and who enjoy the intrigue of an entertaining mystery.
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