Of Fog and Fire
by Rhys Bowen is a mystery that blends crime suspense within
a very potent historical setting. By using historical events
and people in her books the plots become both believable and
relatable. In this novel the 1906 San Francisco earthquake
almost becomes a secondary character, where it is featured
Bowen commented, "When I write a story I always look
at what has happened during that time period. For example,
this book takes place in 1906. When I write about that era
I don't want to tell people about it, but want to take people
to 1906. I consider myself a tour guide that has people feeling
what is happening as well as being told what it was like."
As with all her books, Bowen allows the reader to feel that
they have gone back in time. In this book she gives a flavor
for what it is like to be an Irish American, how corruptness
was widespread, the ability to travel across country, and
the effect of natural disasters upon the population. Intertwined
within that is a crime that must be solved.
The two main characters, Molly Murphy Sullivan and her husband
Daniel are struggling to maintain respectability while dark
forces attempt to besmirch their name. As a New York police
captain who believes in honesty and integrity he is contemplating
resigning from a corrupt force. But an unexpected twist of
fate allows him to take an assignment offered by the head
of the secret service, to weed out corrupt officials in San
Francisco. Molly, a former private detective, feels completely
in the dark until she receives a cryptic letter from him asking
her to join him in California. Embarking on a cross-country
journey by train she is apprehensive of the dangers in store
for her family. It is there that she must use her detective
skills to find out who is responsible for the attempt on her
husband's life and their ulterior motives.
It is while doing the investigation that the earthquake hits,
plummeting the city into chaos and despair. The earthquake
adds to the suspense of the story as readers see the human
side of natural disasters where there is a fine line between
the good guys and the bad ones. Daniel and Molly not only
face danger from the earthquake and subsequent fire but from
corrupted officials and unsavory people who have come out
of the woodworks to take advantage of the vulnerable. It becomes
clear that Molly and Daniel's personalities are very similar.
Both are smart, savvy, self-sufficient, resourceful, and fearless
with a sense of justice.
The author noted, "People have asked me how Molly could
be a woman private detective during those times. But there
was actually a female NYPD police detective. Also, Molly is
encouraged by Nellie Bly. I put in the book, how Nellie fired
up young women when she showed them what one woman can achieve.
She was a real-life investigative reporter who did amazing
things including having herself committed to an insane asylum
so she could write about the conditions, being the only woman
reporter on the front lines in the First World War, and probing
too far in the Mexican elections so she had to be whisked
away. I think Molly has her attitude of putting herself in
danger and will not back away."
She further stated, "I want Molly to be a role model,
which is why I put in the book quote, 'Showing young women
that a woman can hold their own in a man's world. Not only
hold her own, but succeed.' I like to bring in a few real
characters to cement readers to the times. In this book, Mark
Twain did live close by Molly and Daniel, and some of the
speeches he made championed a woman's right to vote. I talk
about women suffrage in many of the books, explaining that
some women hurled insults at those supporting the women vote.
Through my research I found that western states gave women
the right to vote in state elections. It seems western women
were supposed to be tough, while eastern women looked and
many times acted as fragile little flowers."
Also included in the book are two lesbian characters that
are eccentric and loyal. Bowen responded about these characters,
"Can you believe that when I wrote them in some fans
actually told me they would no longer read my books? I wanted
to show them as part of the new Bohemian culture in Greenwich
Village. They are able to thumb their noses at society because
of their wealth. They are kind, fun, and act as big sisters
to Molly. They have their own rules. I think Sid and Gus are
the sort of people I would like to be friends with."
What makes this novel a stand out is how the mystery is intertwined
with the historical events. The setting, dialogue, and characters,
help to create an informative, suspenseful, and insightful