Tuesday, August 08, 2017
Second NYC Historical Crime Fiction from Cuyler Overholt, A PROMISE OF RUIN
From the moment Dr. Genevieve Summerford -- Genna to her friends -- steps onto the scene in A PROMISE OF RUIN, the suspense and surprises of this 1907 amateur sleuth novel are both entrancing and intriguing. Entrancing, because Genna and her would-be beloved, Simon Shaw, share a passion for life and romance that can't be defeated. And intriguing, because there are so many aspects of criminal conspiracy that we've forgotten from this era ... and author Cuyler Overholt, in her second in this series, tugs them seamlessly into a neatly turned plot with just the right amount of risk and rescue for summer reading.
A young Italian bride-to-be has disappeared from New York's arrival area, where huge ships bring a flood of immigrants. When the disappearance comes to Genna's attention, she's sure the police will follow up -- and when she realizes they won't, she tries to do what's reasonable and kind in letting others know about the missing young woman. Harsh realities that she hasn't confronted before, like the overworked police force and the power of criminal elements, result in Gemma committing herself to the very risky process of trying to locate who is running a prostitution ring with a kidnap operation on the side, and how to locate the most recently captured group of girls. In other words, Genna is seeking out a "white slaver" ring, at the risk of her own comfort, safety, and perhaps the relationship that's already at the core of her life.
Overholt introduces early 20th-century Manhattan life skillfully and with flair. Her deft portrayals of city gang life and the cost of poverty are so lively and complex that I paused a couple of times to check the facts, wondering whether this author had created her own aspects to support the plot -- but indeed, she has rounded up and dealt back out again the most fascinating aspects of the immigrant gangs and local resistance, as well as the complications of the Tammany political machine. Then she adds resonance to the action with insight that Genna gains from early understandings of mental illness, applying her healing skills to both the boys at a community center, and the damaged women rescued from the forced sex trade.
To do all this and wrap it briskly around a neatly turned plot with clever twists and heart-warming interactions is quite an achievement! A PROMISE OF RUIN was such a pleasure to read that I'll soon be looking for more of Overholt's writing. And I am delighted that Sourcebooks has clearly scheduled this to be a continuing series of crime-solving adventure. If you can't fit the book into what's left of summer, give it to your bedside TBR stack, to warm the chilly evenings ahead.
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.