Monday, March 11, 2013

Book Review: The Last Illusion by Rhys Bowen (Molly Murphy #9)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Rich historical details, fun characters, engaging mystery
Cons: Last chapter a bit rushed
The Bottom Line:
Magic and murder
Rich historical details
A pleasure to read

Can Molly Protect Harry Houdini?

I always feel like I've time traveled when I read a Molly Murphy mystery.  This series follows an Irish immigrant trying to make her way in New York City at the turn of the twenty century by being a detective.  Since this isn't a normal profession for a woman or a safe time in the city, Molly always encounters plenty of danger.  The Last Illusion is the ninth book in the series and opens in July of 1903.

Molly and her intended, police detective Daniel Sullivan, are enjoying a rare evening out viewing some magicians perform.  Molly is especially excited because Harry Houdini is supposed to be the headliner that night.  But then tragedy strikes and a magician's assistant is sawed in half on stage before Houdini can even go on.

The next morning, Houdini's wife, Bess, appears at Molly's door.  Bess is convinced that the "accident" the night before was intended as a warning to Houdini, who seems to be troubled ever since they got back from Europe.  Molly agrees to help find out what is really happening and try to protect the famous magician.  But then another suspicious accident happens on stage.  Can Molly find out the truth in time to protect Houdini?

I've got to admit, I was a bit started by just how quickly this book got started.  Don't get me wrong, I always find author Rhys Bowen's books enjoyable.  But that first accident happens on page 3.  She doesn't usually get off to quite that fast a start.  Things kept moving forward at a steady pace as well.  I thought I was a few steps ahead of Molly at one point.  In a few points I was, but in most points I was off base.  The climax was logical and quite thrilling.  I did feel the final chapter was a bit abrupt, but that's my only real complaint.

I also find the main characters charming in this series, and this book was no exception.  Molly is headstrong and stubborn, but I love that about her.  I may have finally forgiven Daniel for some of what happened in earlier books in the series because I actually found myself taking his side in some of their arguments over the course of the book.  At others, I didn't have to remind myself that Daniel is a product of his time and so his attitudes about Molly not working after they get married won't be up to date.  (Of course, he also wants to keep her out of the danger she always finds.  It's hard to argue with that even today.)  Molly has made some eccentric friends over the course of the series, and their appearances here made me smile.

I must admit I don't know much about Houdini other than his name, so I can't vouch for how accurately his is portrayed here.  I can say I found him a fascinating character.  Frankly, the entire world of the magicians was an interesting setting for this mystery.  I especially marveled at how sophisticated some of their equipment was for 100 years ago.

And the details as so great.  Just little things as Molly treks all over the city in the middle of a summer heat wave, like the boys trying to cool off.  I've got a better picture of what life was like over 100 years ago (and a bigger appreciation for my air conditioner).

I also look forward to another book from Rhys Bowen, and The Last Illusion proves why.  The pages flew by all too quickly, and I'm left looking forward to the next installment in Molly's life.  Fans will not be disappointed and anyone wanting an entertaining historical mystery will be rewarded.

It's best to read the Molly Murphy Mysteries in order.

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