The Edge of Dreams by Rhys Bowen is the 14th historical mystery in the Molly Murphy series, and this time a near-fatal train accident leaves the former detective sleuthing from the sidelines (available March 3, 2015).
It’s 1905, and Molly Sullivan (née Murphy) is no sooner back in her beloved New York City, preparing to move back into her apartment with husband, NYPD captain Daniel Sullivan and baby Liam (after the building caught fire in the last installment of Rhys Bowen’s series), when she finds herself in a subway accident. She and Liam escape, barely, but having to rest during her recovery is not the former detective’s preferred way of doing things.
So when Daniel tells her about a case he’s trying to solve, a series of seemingly unrelated murders of men and women from various walks of life, all being boastfully claimed by a man sending notes directly to Daniel, Molly is more than eager to help, especially with Daniel and his colleagues getting nowhere. She hates being cooped up, worries that he’s in danger, and wants to settle back into a regular routine, though a part of her misses her former profession, which she’d promised to formally give up at Daniel’s request.
Her sleuthing is somewhat hampered by her sore ribs and meddling mother-in-law, who’s waiting for her to settle down into being a placid wife and mother, but of course Molly won’t let that stop her. When she learns that her close friends Sid and Gus are helping their old college friend’s niece, Mabel, who’s been plagued by her nightmares after her parents were burned to death in a fire, Molly’s mind can’t stop churning.
While Molly isn’t as physically active in his volume as she usually is, it’s her mental prowess that stands out here, especially against the paternalism of the male authority figures who are far more used to ladies avoiding any hint of unpleasantness. She also butts heads with her husband, who doesn’t want to become the laughingstock of the police force by having his wife get involved in his cases:
I decided to pluck up my courage and maybe get my head bitten off. “Daniel, I know you haven’t wanted me to get involved in any of your police work in the past,” I said. But you said yourself that you are stumped. I’m wondering how you would feel if I did a little poking around myself. I thought I could visit the next of kin of the murder victims.”
He held up his hand. “Oh, no, Molly. I’m sure you mean well and want to help, but I’d never hear the last of it if word got back to the commissioner that I was so desperate I’d had to use my wife.”
“Hold your horses a moment,” I said. “The people I interview need not know who I am. I could find some pretext, so they wouldn’t know I was your wife.”
“What sort of pretext?” he asked, still suspicious.
“It would be different for each one, wouldn’t it? I’d be a newspaper reporter, doing a piece on the dangers of trolley cars in Brooklyn. I could easily pass as a female student who was a friend of Simon Grossman. I’ll think of others as I go.”
Though she’s forbidden to discuss the case with anyone but Daniel, she starts digging through the meager clues, using the notes delivered to Daniel to try to form some kind of pattern.
Note said: “Trolley and Dolly rhyme. A fitting end this time.”
One thing that struck me now was that the murderer knew her name. Had he only learned it when someone in the crowd peered down at her body and exclaimed, “Why, that’s Dolly Willis!”? Or had he known it all along, meaning that this wasn’t a random killing after all? For some reason, had Dolly Willis had to die?
When I had studied the list in my bedroom the night before, it had come to me what an enigmatic individual we were dealing with. In almost every case I’d handled during my life as a detective, some pattern had started to emerge—a method of killing, a motive, even a time of day or a place. Here there was nothing. No clue, no link. Just notes addressed to Captain Daniel Sullivan.
One of this historical series’ strengths is its brushes with famous historical figures. Here, Gus has returned from studying with Sigmund Freud in Vienna, which gives Bowen the chance to gently mock the horror the mere mention of his theories caused amongst the upper classes, and to explore Gus’s newfound obsession with dream analysis. While the dreams that haunt Mabel and Molly do play a major role here, it’s what happens when they’re not sleeping that’s far more disturbing.
Bowen gives longtime readers a treat with the return of Bridie, the young Irish girl Molly befriended at the series’ start, who’s been living with Daniel’s mother. Bridie and Liam provide a refreshing exploration of Molly’s maternal side, one that, rather than making her more cautious, makes her fight more fiercely to solve the crime and protect Daniel and their family, lest she be the target of a future attack.
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Rachel Kramer Bussel is a freelance and erotica writer, and editor of over 50 anthologies, including The Big Book of Orgasms: 69 Sexy Stories; Only 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.