Molly Murphy is a feisty Irish immigrant living in early-1900s New York City, where she solves mysteries and often deals with misogynistic blowhards.
I came to reading this mystery series when my late grandmother gave me copies of the first few installments, and I tore through them in a couple of days. I was drawn to Molly’s spirit, tenacity, and the way she manages to work both within and around the sexism of her era.
The first book in the series, Murphy’s Law, has Molly immigrating to New York from Ballykillin, Ireland, which is located in county Mayo. She is on the run for fighting off and killing a would-be rapist — a wealthy landowner against whose family and resources she would never be able to win — in her home. She hops a train and ends up in Liverpool, where she ducks into an open door to avoid two cops who appear to recognize her, and from there luck takes over.
She meets Kathleen O’Connor, who is set to leave for America with her two young children, Bridie and Seamus. But there’s a problem — Kathleen has tested positive for tuberculosis and knows she won’t be admitted into the U.S. upon arrival. So she convinces the children to pretend that Molly is their mother and take them to meet their father in New York.
We follow them across the ocean to Ellis Island, which is where the real mystery begins. A man is murdered, and Molly must find the real killer to clear the name of a man she befriended along the way. Her tenacity and quick wit send her all over the city — traipsing through Hell’s Kitchen, working as a parlor maid, and constantly bumping heads with the Hottie McHotterson (or so she seems to think) detective Daniel Sullivan, who is assigned to the murder case and thinks she is the married Kathleen O’Connor. Sigh, the good ones are always taken, or strong-headed detectives think you’re married so you can keep up the charade that got you into the country.
Molly is a flawed protagonist. She is headstrong and can be impulsive, which frequently gets her into dangerous situations. But that’s why the books in this series are such a good read. She isn’t perfect; she feels real, even if she is living a century ago. But she handles the trials she faces with relatable emotions and a hint of aplomb. Her interests go beyond what is expected and appropriate for women of the era, and she manages to wade through the sea of sexism admirably.
The story itself is not always the most believable, but it serves its purpose as a fun, lighthearted mystery. The historical elements are incorporated seamlessly, even if the crime and investigation feels a bit farfetched at times. Nonetheless, this book is an entertaining read with compelling characters who are easy to care about and situations that are fun to read.