Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mysterious immigrants

Raisins and Almonds, Kerry Greenwood
Murphy's Law, Rhys Bowen

This weekend I read two mysteries centering on immigrants.  In Raisins and Almonds, it's Jewish immigrants to Australia in 1928. In Murphy's Law, it's all the mix of immigrants coming into New York City in 1901, with a focus on the Irish.

The Murder by the Book folks have been recommending Kerry Greenwood's Phyrne Fisher series since Cocaine Blues came out in the US. I tried a couple but didn't click with the series. Then I found the Corinna Chapman series, though a Houston Public Library recommendation - and I was hooked in the first few pages. So eventually, having run out of Corinna books, I thought I'd try Phyrne again - starting with the most recently published, Dead Man's Chest.  From there, I went back to the start of the series, and now I'm reading them sort of in order.  Raisins and Almonds is about the murder of a young Jewish man, recently arrived in Australia, which stirs up the Jewish community with fear it may lead to persecutions. It's a mix of immigration concerns, Jewish history, Zionism, kabala, and alchemy - that last three of which I had a hard time following. I did enjoy the usual cast of characters, minus Lin Chung but with the addition of Molly the puppy.  And I envied Miss Sylvia Lee her idyllic life in her used bookstore. I think of Australia as a country of immigrants, like the US - and like the US, not everyone came voluntarily. And the struggle between generations of immigrants, from different parts of the world, may also look like our America history.  I have Bill Bryson's book on Australia; maybe I'll move it up the TBR pile. One small quibble with this series: Phyrne's father's title keeps changing.  In this book, he is a duke - which would make her Lady, not the Hon. Phyrne.

I also found Rhys Bowen through the library - in this case, the Harris County Public Libraries (which are wonderful).  I started with the Lady Georgie series, set in the 1930s.  A friend gave me some of the Evan Evans books (now sadly out of prints), which I liked.  But while I tried one of the Molly Murphy books, like Phyrne, we didn't immediately click.  The last time I was at a signing with Rhys Bowen, though, the MBTB staff were so enthusiastic that I bought the first Molly book - which sat on the TBR pile for five months.  I picked it up Saturday & read it straight through.  The main character, Molly,  flees Ireland after fighting off the landlord's son and leaving him on the kitchen floor. She ends up escorting two children to America, posing as their mother. When a fellow immigrant, also Irish, is murdered on Ellis Island, Molly becomes one of the suspects and becomes involved in the investigation - which is the last thing that a handsome Irish police captain wants.  The New York City setting is really well done, capturing the diversity of the population and the conflicts with and among immigrants.  My only quibble with Molly is that she is awfully familiar with terms like "fingerprints" and "alibi" that probably didn't come up a lot in a small village in Ireland in 1901 - though Molly has apparently read Sherlock Holmes.  I look forward to more of Molly's adventures.

America is a county of immigrants; everyone came here from somewhere else. One of my grandmothers came through Ellis Island in the 1920s. My dad's family moved back & forth to Canada in the early 1900s.  Immigrants built this country, and today they make up a huge if shadowy part of our economy.  I live in Houston, an immigration hub, 50 miles from Galveston, a 19th century immigration port to rival Ellis Island. We need a just immigration policy in this country, and we need to know our own history.

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Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!