In The Spotlight: Rhys Bowen’s For the Love of Mike

>In The Spotlight: Wilkie Collins' The MoonstoneHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Rhys Bowen has been a well-regarded crime writer for some time. She’s written more than one series, too (you may, for instance, be familiar with her Constable Evan Evans series). Her most recent series features New York PI Molly Murphy. Let’s take a look at that series today, and turn the spotlight on For the Love of Mike, the third in the series.

It’s 1901, and Molly Murphy, a fairly recent immigrant from Ireland, has inherited a PI business from her former mentor, Paddy Riley. His specialty was divorce cases, and that’s where she begins. But she soon finds that she has no taste for going after philandering spouses. Still, she wants to be a detective.

One line of business that appeals to her is helping Irish families locate and possibly reconnect with relatives who came to America. So she arranges for advertisements in a few of the Dublin newspapers. That’s how she hears from Major T.W. Faversham. He and his wife are concerned because their daughter, Katherine, has come to America with her boyfriend, Michael Kelly, and they haven’t heard from her. They didn’t approve of her choice, and they want her to return to Ireland. So Molly makes her plans to start looking for Katherine.

In the meantime, she gets another new client, Max Mostel, who owns a clothing factory. He suspects that someone is stealing his designs and giving or selling them to Lowenstein’s, his major competitor. Mostel wants a PI to find out who the ‘mole’ is, but at first, he’s reluctant to hire a woman. Soon, though, he sees the advantage of it, and he and Molly make a plan. She’ll go undercover in his factory for a few weeks, both to learn about the employees, and to learn the sewing skills she’ll need. Then, she’ll apply at Lowenstein’s, so she can catch the guilty party.

Molly begins her investigation, and discovers firsthand what conditions are like in the garment factories of the day. Most of the workers are poor immigrants who have very few options. Working conditions are not safe or healthy, the hours are long, and the pay is minimal. But everyone knows that there are hundreds of others waiting to take their jobs if they complain. When she follows through on the other part of the plan, Molly finds that conditions at Lowenstein’s are even worse. Still, she tries to keep her focus on the job at hand.

In the meantime, Molly learns that Katherine Faversham worked for Mostel for a time, but then seemed to disappear. Fearing the worst, Molly tries to trace the missing woman’s movements in the days and weeks before she went missing. But it turns out that someone is very much determined that she will not find out the truth. In the end, though, and after a murder, Molly finds out what happened to Katherine and Michael. She also discovers who’s been stealing Mostel’s designs.

This novel takes place in turn-of-the-20th-Century New York, and Bowen places the reader there, both geographically and historically. As Molly investigates, readers learn about various immigrant communities, about the budding women’s and workers’ movements, and about the rather strict social class and gender boundaries of the time. Readers who enjoy novels that take place in New York City will appreciate the setting. There’s even a visit to Ellis Island.

As you’ll no doubt know, life was both cheap and dangerous at that time and in that place. We see that aspect of the era as well. There are run-ins with gangs, corrupt police and politicians, and factory managers. Conditions are often unsanitary (‘though Molly herself lives comfortably enough), and life in a sweatshop amounts to a death sentence for some workers. In fact, in one sub-plot, Molly joins the other workers at Lowenstein’s as they strike for better working conditions. As you can imagine, their strike is not taken kindly, and we see what life was like for the urban working poor of the times.

Those who’ve read this series will know that the stories are told in first person, from Molly’s point of view. So we learn quite a bit about her.  As I mentioned, she’s a fairly recent arrival from Ireland, and still somewhat innocent (‘though not naïve). She’s got a lot to learn about the PI life, but she’s intelligent and quick-witted, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She gets herself into plenty of danger, but this is by no means a ‘heroine in peril’ sort of a novel

In one story arc, we learn that Molly’s personal life is not exactly settled. Police Captain Daniel Sullivan is in love with her, and she has strong feelings for him. But he’s engaged to someone else, and doesn’t seem in any hurry to break off that engagement. At the same time, she’s met Jacob Singer, a union representative from the United Hebrew Trades. He’s fallen in love with her, and she likes him very much, too. But she doesn’t know him well enough to know if she feels the same way. Besides, they’re from different cultures and backgrounds; and in that era, that cultural barrier is a major gulf. Readers who dislike plot threads involving romance or romantic concerns will notice this.

In some senses, this is a lighter story. There is violence, but much more of it is implied than real. And readers who dislike a lot of profanity will be pleased to know that it’s kept to a very bare minimum here.

That said though, this isn’t a ‘frothy’ sort of novel. Bowen doesn’t gloss over conditions at the sweatshops, and there is a real sense of sadness about the lives of some of the people who work there. Bowen doesn’t sugarcoat the dangers of slums, of gangs, or of being a single woman at that time, either.

For the Love of Mike is set in a distinctly New York City context, and shows clearly what it was like for different kinds of people to live there at the turn of the 20th Century. It features a sleuth who sees the city through immigrant eyes, and a mystery that ties together the garment industry and a pair of missing immigrants. But what’s your view? Have you read For the Love of Mike? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 Coming Up On In The Spotlight


Monday, 6 June/Tuesday, 7 June – Total Chaos – Jean Claude Izzo

Monday, 13 June/Tuesday, 14 June – The Body Snatcher – Patricia Melo

Monday, 20 June/Tuesday, 21 June – Bad Country – C.B. McKenzie


Filed under Rhys Bowen

31 responses to “In The Spotlight: Rhys Bowen’s For the Love of Mike

  1. Pingback: In The Spotlight: Rhys Bowen’s For the Love of Mike | e. michael helms

  2. Another spotlight author I haven’t come across Margot – I do want to know where you hide them all! I like the premise of this very much and as you say life was cheap at that time in New York so I’m sure there is lots for Molly to discover – good to have a female PI too.

    • I think so, too, Cleo. And in my opinion, Bowen does a solid job of evoking the New York City of the times. This is the third in the series (which begins with Murphy’s Law), and there are a few mentions of previous novels. But I honestly don’t think readers who aren’t familiar withe the series will be at a real disadvantage. If you try Bowen’s work, I hope you’ll like it.

  3. I haven’t read it, no. But as I was reading your post I was reminded of a movie I saw years ago about conditions in a sweat shop in Mexico. The conditions were deplorable and there was a brutal serial killer in their midst. He’d wait for the girls to get off the bus, then drag them into the desert and murder them in unspeakable ways. The scary part was, it was a true story. Those poor women never found justice. The killer remained at large.

  4. I enjoy this author’s work, but haven’t read this book. I’ll have to add it to my TBR list. I’m always amazed how an author can have several series going on at the same time and be so different. Margot, always enjoy your spotlight features.

    • Thanks, Mason. I always have the deepest respect for authors who can do multiple series, so I know just what you mean. If you do try this one, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  5. I like these spotlights because they’re often authors I haven’t read before and you give a really good grounding in their work. Thank you for yet another great post, Margot.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Rebecca; I’m glad you enjoy these posts. I think that’s one of the great things about the crime fiction community; we introduce each other to new reads.

  6. Rhys Bowen is a fine author, with at least three series. She hasn’t done any of the Constable Evan Evans series for a while now (though she’s talked about at least a new novella – not sure when/if it will appear). For cozy historical lovers, there’s her “Royal Spyness” series featuring Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, 34th in line to the British throne and flat broke. And there’s the slightly harder-edge Molly Murphy series. She’s won several awards (especially the Agatha) for her series and she’s one of the bloggers at . She’s a delight, and so are her books. Glad you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read of hers!

  7. Another interesting spotlight, Margot! I also haven’t heard of this author, but the setting sounds like a place and time with a lot of potential. I like the idea of taking a look at the ‘lower’ classes too – so often historical fiction concerns itself with the rich or aristocratic.

    • You know, it does, FictionFan. And that’s what I like about this series. In fact, there are a few places in it where Molly reflects on the fact that she’s very fortunate to have decent living conditions and so on, but so many do not. And poor really means deplorable at that time. I like it that Bowen acknowledges that.

  8. Nice to read one more well-done article by you!

  9. Col

    I’ll pass on this one, I prefer a more contemporary setting for most of my reading. Looking forward to the Izzo and McKenzie posts – both on Mount TBR.

    • To be honest, Col, I don’t think this is your sort of book. No book is for everyone, really. But hey, at least your TBR is intact. And yes, the Izzo and the McKenzie are, I think, more up your street.

  10. tracybham

    I have never tried any of Rhys Bowen’s books. Maybe some day.

  11. Tim

    I’m adding this one to my “wish list” for today’s library visit. Your fine review/posting further complicates my life with yet another “must read” addition. Thanks!
    BTW, guess who moved to a different blogging address? Yes, I’m following my heart and sticking with crime fiction. The new blog is Past Perfect Murders. Today’s posting features Andrea Camilleri. And I bet Rhys Bowen will be featured soon!
    Here is the link:

    • Thanks for the new blog listing, Tim. Crime fiction is awfully appealing, isn’t it? And I hope you’ll enjoy Rhys Bowen’s work if you get the chance to try it.

  12. Tim

    I tried to leave a comment but it disappeared into the ether. So, I will try again.
    You’ve complicated my already complicated life by adding yet another author to my “must read” list. Your superb postings/reviews have a way of expanding my reading horizons. Thanks!
    Now, in other news, note that I’ve moved again, and my blogging efforts have been redirected and limited to crime fiction. Here is the new address (and Andrea Camilleri won the debut spotlight posting honors).

  13. Margot, this sounds like a very good crime fiction, particularly on account of the period, setting, Irish ethnicity, and the character of Molly Murphy. I can’t imagine what early 20th century New York would be like.

    • I think Bowen does a very effective job of evoking the time and place, Prashant. It certainly wasn’t a very easy place to live if you were poor. If you do get a chance to read this series, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  14. Very interest setting and concept, I will definitely consider this one.

    • I think you’d like this one, Moira. If you read it, I hope you do. There are even a few discussions about clothes in it. Molly has to think about what she’ll wear as she works at the sweatshops. It’s cold, but she can’t get away with her usual warm coat, as most poor women didn’t have one at that time. She has to make do with a shawl, so she can pass for ‘one of the girls.’

  15. Margot, I enjoyed reading your review of For The Love of Mike. Makes me want ot read the novel. 🙂

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