Fresh Meat: City of Darkness and Light by Rhys Bowen

City of Darkness and Light by Rhys Bowen, the thirteenth novel in the Molly Murphy historical series, follows the young mother to Paris in 1905, where she loses track of friends and stumbles onto a murder (available March 4, 2014).

Molly Sullivan, nee Molly Murphy, is a fighter. She’s had to be. She escaped from Ireland and is wanted by the law in New York City. She’s become a private detective, facing all manners of dangerous criminals. Now married to police Captain Daniel Sullivan and mother to baby Liam, she winds up traveling to Paris, but it’s not as glamorous as she’d expected. Firstly, she’s escaping the Cosa Nostra gang, who are presumably the culprits behind the house fire that killed her nanny and almost cost Molly her life. Secondly, when she arrives at the rented apartment of her friends Sid and Gus, she discovers them missing. Ever intrepid, Molly sets off to find them, navigating the unfamiliar city and language with her usual plucky courage.

Along the way, she lands in the midst of the burgeoning Parisian art scene. Bowen has great fun with inserting Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Gertrude Stein and Mary Cassatt into the story. Molly’s usual stomping grounds of Greenwich Village are replaced by her wonder at the culture of Paris, though she has little time for sightseeing as while investigating the mystery of her missing friends, she stumbles ontothe murder of a renowned painter Reynold Bryce.

It’s always a treat when Molly meets up with historical characters, as she did with Harry Houdini in The Last Illusion. In Paris, when she stumbles upon a group of artists in a café, Picasso wants to paint her, though she’s too busy investigating – not to mention too married – to consider indulging him.

The man who was the best dressed among them, wearing a three-piece suit, touched my hand. “Do not worry, chérie,” he said. “You should have no concern about posing for Picasso. If he paints you, you will wind up with three heads, one breast, and one eye. And possibly blue hair. Completely unrecognizable.”

“I paint her as I see her,” the little Spaniard said.

“I clearly see two breasts,” the well-dressed one commended, eyeing me a little too closely. “Anyway, mon cher Picasso,” he went on, “you know very well that Fernande would kill you or maybe her if you dared to paint another woman. You know how jealous she is.”

I felt this banter had gone on long enough. They had clearly had all the time in the world. I was racing against the clock. “So nobody knows where I can find Monsieur Bryce?”

“La Stein would know, don’t you think?” one of them suggested.

“Possibly she knows, but she wouldn’t tell. They hate each other. He is an anti-Dreyfusard of the worst order.”

As it turns out, Bryce is no longer alive, leaving Molly to face a dead end in her search for her friends. When she used to work back in New York, Molly encountered her fair share of doubters that a woman can or should be mixed up with murder. It’s especially entertaining to find her making the French turn their heads as well.

A door was open to my left and I saw the back of a policeman who appeared to be dusting the back of a chair with a feather duster. I had seen this done before. “You’re looking for fingerprints,” I said. At least I tried to say it, but the word was outside the scope of my vocabulary. I tried saying, “impressions de doigts” meaning “impression of fingers.” He looked confused. I mimed the making of a fingerprint and he nodded, understanding.

“Ah. Les empreintes digitales—this is new science for us. How in the name o God do you know of such things?” he demanded.

I was about to say that my husband was a police captain in New York, but didn’t want word of this getting back to Daniel. “I am acquainted with the methods of the police,” I said. “We know all about fingerprints in America.” I didn’t add that they had never been allowed as admissible evidence in court, in spite of the police insisting they were the only infallible tool the detective had. Then the import of that police work struck me. “But that must mean that a crime was committed here.”

He nodded. “This must remain confidential for now, but I am afraid to report to you that Monsieur Bryce is dead.”

“Dead? You mean murdered?”

“It would appear so. I am sorry to be the reporter of bad news.”

I nodded. I neither knew nor cared about Reynold Bryce, but my immediate thought was that if someone had killed him, his death might have had something to do with Sid and Gus’s disappearance. Were they now in danger or … I hardly dared to frame the thought … were they also dead. I swallowed hard. “When was he killed?”      

Just like it was back home, Molly must solve the crime on her own, against the wishes of the police, this time with her baby son to look after, all the while trying to escape her old nemesis Justin Hartley, who’s playing tourist with his mother and could get Molly into even deeper trouble. Her adventures across Paris require her to use all the skills she’s acquired over the years as she navigates unfamiliar cultural and geographical territory. Dedicated readers will appreciate the leap across the pond as a refreshing and entertaining setting for Molly to use her smarts, away from the sometimes paternalistic attitudes of her husband.

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Rachel Kramer Bussel is a freelance and erotica writer, and editor of over 50 anthologies, including The Big Book of Orgasms69 Sexy StoriesOnly You: Erotic Romance for Women; Serving Him: Sexy Stories of Submission and others. She tweets @raquelita and blogs at Lusty Lady.

Read all of Rachel Kramer Bussel's posts for Criminal Element.

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