Mary Handley truly was the first female detective for the Brooklyn Police Department in 1890. They’d hired her to sleuth a high-profile murder which was that of Charles Goodrich. The author used this historical murder case to launch his first book in the series, Second Street Station. Lawrence Levy skillfully combines history with fiction in order to create a unique character in Mary Handley. In Brooklyn on Fire, Mary is contacted by Emily Worsham who believes that her Uncle John Worsham’s death in 1870 had actually been murder. Historically, you begin your investigation into a cold case as you do now – you exhume the body. Mary contacts John’s widow, Arabella Huntington, for permission. Arabella was irate to even be asked such a thing, but John’s son, Archer, felt the need to know the truth and so Arabella conceded.
With added twists to the tale, there is a lot more going on as additional murders accumulate. Mary’s brother, Sean Handley, on the Brooklyn police force, is found to be suspect. The plot and characters are very original. However, so many characters were introduced at the beginning of the novel, that I felt deluged by them all. Other than Mary, the author also featured several other actual historical figures such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and the Vanderbilt family, once again combining fact with fiction. In an interview, Levy mentions that he matched Mary’s personality to that of the woman he would have loved her to be since he clearly doesn’t know her actual personality. You can find that interview here. Rating: 3 out of 5.