Time 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 prominently.
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 plot.