The beloved debut of Rhys Bowen's New York Times bestselling Molly Murphy mystery series, Murphy's Law, re-released in trade paperback as a Minotaur Signature.
From the creator of the much-loved Constable Evan Evans mysteries comes a colorful new series set in turn-of-the-century New York City. When spirited redhead Molly Murphy was growing up a peasant on the coast of Ireland she always imagined there was something more in store for her. She couldn't have known how right she was until the day she became a murderer, albeit in self-defense. Under drastic circumstances, Molly is forced to strike out into a new world. With the police right behind her, Molly's only chance at escape is a false identity and a steamship that will take her far, far away: to America.
When her ship sails into New York Harbor, with the majestic figure of the Statue of Liberty providing comfort and inspiration, Molly is sure her whole life is in front of her. But she's got one last hurdle to clear: Ellis Island. She is just one among thousands of immigrants on the tiny island, awaiting their fate with anxiety and hope. Unfortunately for Molly, before she is able to leave the island a man is brutally murdered, his throat cut from ear to ear, and coincidence and fate make her a suspect in a crime she didn't commit. Under a cloud of suspicion, and due largely to a growing mutual attraction between Molly and the handsome police captain in charge of the case, she is allowed to leave Ellis Island for Manhattan. Unfortunately, she's got a mission she couldn't have anticipated: clear her own name of murder. Alone in a new country with no one to lean on, Molly hits the vibrant streets of New York intent on finding out what really happened. After all, if she can't, she'll be sent back to Ireland, where the dreaded gallows await.
With the sweeping skyline of 19th century New York and the gritty, pulsating underworld of recently arrived immigrants forming a vivid backdrop, Rhys Bowen transports readers back in time to America's not-so-distant past. The first entry in the Molly Murphy series is a fascinating look at our immigrant history as well as an intensely absorbing page-turner.
About the Author
RHYS BOWEN is the author of the Anthony and Agatha Award–winning Molly Murphy mysteries, the Edgar Award-nominated Evan Evans series, In Farleigh Field, and the Royal Spyness series. Born in England, she lives in San Rafael, California.
Read an Excerpt
That mouth of yours will be getting you into big trouble one day."
My mother started saying that as soon as I could talk. It turns out she wasn't far wrong. By the time I was ten my refusal to hold my tongue had almost gotten us thrown out of our cottage. And a week before I turned twenty-three, I was on the run, wanted for murder.
The rhythmic puffing of the engine calmed me back to my senses. I had no clear memory of getting to the train station, but the pain in my ribs when I tried to breathe and the way I could feel my dress sticking to my back told me that I must have run every step of those five miles. About the state of the front of my dress I chose not to think. I pulled my shawl more tightly around me and glanced at the other people in my compartment. An old farm couple with weathered red cheeks already dozing in the far corner, a young mother with two lively little ones, plus another on the way, and a priest. He returned my glance and I looked away hastily, just in case priests could somehow read thoughtsor extract confessions. Wouldn't he be surprised to hear mine right now?
Every time the conductor walked through the train and glanced into my compartment, I was sure he was looking for me. But then that was stupid, wasn't it? Justin Hartley was lying dead on my own kitchen floor but nobody would even know he was missing yet. My father and my little brothers weren't due home until evening and Justin was hardly likely to have told anybody at the big house where he was going. I couldn't picture him saying at breakfast, over the deviled kidneys orwhatever disgusting dish the upper class had eaten this morning, "I'm just off down to the peasants' cottages to have my way with Molly Murphy."
So I had a few hours yet to make my escape. This train would take me all the way to Belfast. And then I probably had just enough money for a boat to England. After that, I couldn't say. Maybe I'd be able to lose myself in a big city like Liverpool. Maybe I wouldn't. Likely as not the police would catch up with me soon enough. It wouldn't be too hard to spot an Irish girl on the run, especially one with flame red hair like mine. Since I knew nobody in England, I had nowhere to hide. So it was only a matter of time, but I was going to go on running as long as I could. I've never been known to give up on anything without a good fight.
I stared out of the carriage window. It was a picture perfect day, sky like blue glass, sparkling clear, with just a hint of frost in the airthe sort of day that doesn't happen often in our Irish winters. The sort of day that would have made me rush through my chores, put the stew on the stove, and be off to walk along the cliff tops, with the wind at my back and the ocean at my feet. The sort of day when the gentry would be out, riding to hounds. A picture of Justin in his red coat flashed into my head. I'd always thought how handsome he looked in his red coat. I suppose I'd been a little in love with him when I was younger. Lord knows I never meant to kill him. I could almost feel that priest's eyes boring into the back of my head as I stared out of the window.
Green fields dotted with fine horses in them flashed past. The horses looked up in alarm as the fire-breathing monster approached, kicked up their heels, and ran off. How well they looked. If I could run that fast they'd not find it so easy to catch me.
When they did catch me, it would mean the rope around my necknot much doubt about that. My hand went instinctively to my throat and I shuddered. Did you feel anything when they hanged you? Was it all over in an instant? Would it hurt? They certainly wouldn't listen to my side of the story. I'd killed an English landowner's son. That had to be a hanging offense, even if I was just trying to preserve my honor. But then peasant girls have no honor, do they? As Justin said, I belonged to him as much as any of his farm animals. I couldn't think of anyone who'd speak for me. Not my dahe'd be angry enough when he found I helped myself to the emergency fund in the teapot on the mantelpiece. It was supposed to be secret. We children all knew about it, of course, but the thought of my father's leather belt across our backsides had prevented us from dipping into it. Right now a leather belt across the backside seemed a good sort of punishment compared with what else might be waiting for me. My hand strayed to my neck again.
No, I wouldn't be counting on any sympathy from my da. He'd probably say I was leading Justin on with my loose ways. My loose ways had never stretched beyond going dancing on a Saturday night and maybe letting a boy walk me home, but that was enough for my father. In his day girls never talked back to their elders and never went out dancing without a chaperon. I did both. Frequently.
If my ma had still been alive, she'd have said I asked for it, tooalways did have big ideas beyond my station and a mouth that was going to get me into trouble. It's a pity she hadn't lived long enough to say "I told you so." She'd have enjoyed that.
It suddenly came to me that I was completely on my own. Our relatives were either dead or emigrated to other lands. I had no real friends in the village of Ballykillin anymore. The other girls I'd played with when I was little were long married to local clodhopping louts without a thought in their head but food, beer, and bed. Myself, I was holding out for something better, although I wasn't sure where I'd find it. The funny thing was that those girls pitied meI was the spinster, too old for anyone to want me and hopelessly on the shelf. I'd drifted apart from them long ago, of course, when I was chosen for schooling at the big house with the landowners two girls. Not that I could call Miss Vanessa and Miss Henrietta my friends, either. They'd always managed to make me feel like an interloperin their well-bred, genteel way, of course. And now they'd gone off into English society and only managed a polite nod when their carriages passed me.
So I had no one on my side in the whole wide world. It was a frightening thought, but challenging, too. It meant I owed nothing to anyone. I was free of Ballykillin, free of all that cooking and cleaning for four ungrateful males, free to be who I pleased ... if I could only get far enough away to start over. One thing was sureI didn't intend to die yet.
It was late afternoon by the time we pulled into Belfast station. I covered my head in my shawl and blended in with all the women coming out of the linen factories, allowing myself to be swept along with the tide until I could make my way to the docks. Nobody stopped me as I got on the boat, but I kept my head covered and my face well hidden all the way across to England. I didn't sleep more than a wink all night, and by the time the coast of England appeared in the cold morning light I was hollow eyed and groggy.
Then I was there, in a strange city, a strange country, with fourpence in my pocket and no idea what to do next. As I came down the gangplank I looked across to see a big, beautiful ship with two fine funnels.
"Look, there's the Majestic. White Star Line," I heard a woman behind me saying. "You knowthe one the O'Shea's boy is sailing on to America."
America, I thought with a wistful smile. That's where I'd be headed if I had more than fourpence in my pocket. Irish boys were always running off to America when they got themselves involved in the troubles with the English. I stepped out of the stream of passengers for a moment and stared up at that fine ship. My but she was huge. Standing there on the dock and looking up was like looking up the tallest cliffs I'd ever seen. You could put the whole of Ballykillin in her and then have room enough left for a couple of cathedrals.
The tide of people jostled around me, sweeping me onward and out of the docks. Then the crowd dispersed, as if by magic, and I found myself alone, facing a wide promenade lined with tall, elegant buildings, the likes of which I'd only seen in pictures before. One of them even had columns at the front, like a Roman temple. There were carriages outside them, and hansom cabs and ladies in big, beautiful hats and fur-trimmed capes strolling past. I forgot that I was penniless and on the run, and I stood there, savoring the moment. I was really in a city at last and it looked just how I had imagined it! The building with the columns had a sign on it saying Cunard Line. The other, even taller in red-and-white brick, White Star Line. Both their balconies were draped in black. It took me a moment to realize that England was still mourning the death of the old queen, now over a month in her grave. Yes, the flags were still flying at half-mast. I hadn't seen any such public displays over in Ireland, in fact I heard there had been dancing in the streets in Dublin. But then Victoria had never shown any particular love for the Irish, had she? Not that we hoped the new king Edward would be any better for us ...
I was gazing up at those big buildings as I crossed the street. A blaring horn made me jump out of my skin as something low and sleek and powerful roared past me. So that was a motorcar! I stood watching it in admiration as it disappeared in a cloud of smoke. One day I'd have one of those, I decided, until I remembered that I was a criminal, on the run and not likely to be alive much longer if I didn't use my wits. At least I was in a big city now. I should be able to blend in with the thousands of Irish who lived here already. I'd get myself a job in a factory, find myself a room, and maybe I'd be just fine. Maybe.
I set off, wandering the back streets. I'd never even been in a city beforeuntil yesterday in Belfast, of course, but Belfast wasn't half the size of this, and I'd been too frightened about getting caught to notice anything. I'd dreamed all my life of going to live in Dublin, or even London, in a fine house with my own carriage, and servants, lots of servantsalways one for big dreams, I was, only they weren't exactly turning out the way I'd planned.
I soon decided that cities weren't all they were cracked up to be. Oh, to be sure, there were the grand houses along the waterfront, but a couple of streets back and it was a very different picture. Lots of gray, dirty streets with smoke hanging over them like a pall. It wasn't like the sweet, herby peat smoke of home. It turned the air brown, and the burned, bitter smell stuck in my nostrils.
I walked and walked. All those houses so close togetherrows and rows of them crammed into the dark shadow behind the big wharf buildings. Tired, gray-looking women standing in doorways with babies on their hips. Hard-faced children playing in the streets. One of them threw a rock at me, then fled when I turned on him. I was suddenly feeling hungry but I had no money for food. First a job, then I eat, I told myself.
By the end of the day I was back in the dockside area, still hungry and still jobless. I'd found plenty of factories but they all had signs outside saying, No Workers Needed or, even worse, No Irish Need Apply.
The gray morning had turned into a rainy afternoon, not the gentle refreshing rain of my home in county Mayo, but a soot-laden drizzle that painted dirty streaks down my cheeks and spattered my white cuffs. A bitter wind was blowing off the ocean. My feet were hurting me. I was cold, tired, and hungry. The fear that I'd managed to keep at bay until now was seeping through. They'd surely be looking for me by now. If I didn't find a place to hide they'd find me soon enough and then it would be all over. Exotic smells came from the tall wharf buildings, spices and scents that conjured up distant ports. Maybe I'd be lucky enough to find an open door and a place to sleep for the night. Maybe something to eat, too.
I was making my way down a narrow alley, trying one door after another when I looked back and saw blue uniforms and helmets behind me. Two policemen were following me. I threw my shawl over my head and quickened my pace, but their heavy footsteps echoed from the high brick walls as they came after me. The alley turned a corner. So did they. Then I saw that I was trapped. It was a blind alleyhigh walls were all around me and the only way out was blocked by those two policemen. A door on my right was open a crack, although no light shone out. I had to take my chances. I pushed it open and stepped inside.
I found myself in a narrow front hall that smelled of boiled cabbage and drains. It seemed to be some kind of rooming house because there were notices all over the walls with house rules on themno smoking, no drinking, no visitors, no animals, no cooking in the rooms. Next to that was a biblical text: Love thy Neighbor.
As I stood there, holding my breath and wondering what to do next, the front door opened and I found myself staring at the two policemen.
"One moment, miss," one of them said. "We'd like a word with you."
I decided to bluff it out. It wouldn't be the first time I got myself out of trouble by being brazenof course, being brazen had also gotten me into trouble plenty of times too, but I didn't have time to think about that.
I tossed back my head and put my hands on my hips. "I noticed you following me all the way down the street. Have you nothing better to do than follow decent factory girls on their way home from the mill, or am I to thank you for guarding my honor?"
They were still staring at me with cold, suspicious eyes. "Do you live here, miss?"
I've never been very good at outright lies. I suppose the beatings my ma and pa gave us for lying really did make a lasting impression.
"Not exactly, sir. I'm just visiting my"
"We've been told to be on the lookout for a young woman who resembles"
At that moment the door nearest me opened and a woman's face looked out. "Is that you at last, Siobhan?" she demanded, frowning at me. "Get inside here right away, you lazy thing, and no excuses this time."
She grabbed my sleeve and jerked me in her direction.
"You know this young woman?" one of the policemen asked.
"You think I'm not knowing my own sister?" the woman said. "I sent her out over an hour ago to get me the powder for my headaches and where's she been all this time I'd like to know. No concern for her sister's poor head, have you, you ungrateful creature?"
Either she was crazy or her vision was poor, because she was clearly mistaking me for someone else. I decided to say nothing and hung my head, looking repentant.
"We're all sailing for America in the morning," the woman went on. "How was I going to stand all that time at sea without my headache powders?" She turned away, coughing.
The first policeman touched his helmet. "Sorry to have troubled you, missus. And you, too, miss. Good luck in America."
They went, leaving me staring at the woman. She was younger than I thought at first, but hollow eyed and very thin.
"I'm sorry," I said, "but you've made a mistake. I'm not your sister."
A smile crossed her tired face. "You think I don't have two good eyes in my head?" she demanded. "I was watching out of the window and I saw those two fellows following you and I decided no good was going to come of it. I've no love of the English police myself. I don't know what you've done but you don't look like a criminal to me." She opened her door wider. "Come on in with you. There's a kettle boiling on the grate."
She closed the door behind us. Two young children, a boy and a girl, were sitting by a poor excuse for a fire. They looked up at me with big, wary eyes.
"Hello," I said. "My name's Molly. What's yours?"
The woman put a hand on each of their heads. "This one is Seamus like his daddy and the little scrap of a person is my Bridie." Seamus continued to stare and managed a defiant half smile. Bridie hid her face under the quilt. "They've not been themselves since we left home and came here," she went on. "They don't know whether they're coming or going, poor little mites. I'm Kathleen O'Connor." She held out her hand.
"Molly Murphy," I said. "I'm very pleased to meet you, and very grateful to you, too. I know nobody in this whole town."
She poured boiling water into a teapot. "The landlady tells us not to cook in the rooms but the food she prepares isn't fit for man nor beast. And sit yourself down. You look ready to drop. Were those two policemen really after you?"
I glanced at the window, half expecting to see them still lurking nearby. "I'm afraid they were." I took a deep breath. "Look, you should know I'm on the run. It's possible those policemen were already onto me. So I ought not to stay here long. I don't want to get you involved...."
"You think I'd turn a fellow Irishwoman over to the English police?" she demanded. Her accent was very different from mine, with all those harsh arrrr sounds of the north. "Whatever you've done, I'm sure it can't be that bad."
I glanced across at Kathleen's children. She seemed to pick up my meaning.
"You two will be wanting your tea soon, I'm thinking," Kathleen said to them. She fished in the purse that hung from her waist. "Here's twopence. How about taking your sister down to the fish shop on the corner and bringing us back twopence worth of chips?" She handed the money to the boy, who grabbed his sister's hand. "Come on, Bridie," he said. "And you better walk fast this time 'cos I'm not waiting for you."
The little one looked back fearfully at her mother. "Go on with you," Kathleen said, wrapping a scarf around the child's neck. "You need some fresh air or you'll not sleep tonight."
The door closed behind the children and Kathleen turned back to me.
"I killed a man," I said and watched it register on her face. "I didn't mean to."
"This man you killed?" she asked.
I stared into the fire. I had kept the whole thing blocked from my mind since it happened. Now I saw the details as if it was all happening in front of meJustin bursting into my cottage, standing there with that insolent smile on his face, telling me there was no point in struggling because he owned me just as much as the beasts on his farm. For the first time in my life words had not been a good enough defense. What had kept the local boys at bay didn't work on Justin. He'd merely laughed and thrown me back across the kitchen table. Then there was the sound of my dress ripping as he got impatient and then my mighty kick that surprised even me, the surprised look on his face and the sickening sound of his head striking our stove ... and all that blood.
"He was trying to ... have his way with me, you know." I couldn't bring myself to say the word rape. I pushed him away. "He slipped and hit his head."
"Well then," she said, but I shook my head. "It won't make any difference with the jury, will it? He was the landowner's son. English gentry. You don't get away with killing the gentry, do you?" I kept staring into the fire. The hopelessness of the situation was catching up with me. "He tore my dress," I said and opened my shawl to show her. Suddenly I was very near to tears, but I don't cry in front of strangers.
"The beast," she said gently, in a way that brought me even closer to tears. "He deserved everything he got and more. Don't you worry. I'll not give you away. They're all beasts, these English. Why else would my Seamus have had to get away to America, leaving us to fend for ourselves these two years?"
She handed me a chipped enamel mug of tea. I took a big gulp and felt warmth returning to my body.
"First my brother and then my man," she went on. "They hanged our Liam, you know. Only nineteen, he was, and such a lovely boy. He and some of the boys tried to stop the landowner's agent from evicting a neighbor. The agent was killed in the struggle. It was in the dark of night in foul weather and I reckon they'd have got away with it, but someone betrayed them. One of their own, it had to be. They were all hanged." She turned away, coughing again.
"How terrible," I said. "And your man?"
"He tried to organize a trade union at the mill. They held a strike. The guard was called in and things got ugly. My Seamus had to flee for his life." She broke off with another coughing spell. "They managed to get him on a boat to America, but he can't come home again. There's a price on his head."
"But you're going to join him now, aren't you? That's wonderful."
A strange look came over her face. "Yes. Wonderful."
At that moment the two little ones burst back in with the bag of chips.
"Seamus ate some on the way home," Bridie exclaimed until she remembered there was a stranger in the room. Then she hung her head and slunk over to her mother.
"No doubt there's plenty for all," her mother said. "And we've meat pie left from yesterday. It's a feast we'll be having." She spread out the newspaper on the small round table. "Help yourself," she said to me.
"No, I couldn't."
"There's plenty. We'll not go hungry tonight and tomorrow we'll be dining in luxury on the boat."
"Will there be lots of food on the boat?" Seamus asked, in between cramming chips into his mouth. "Meat and sausages and everything?"
"Sure there will. As much as you can eat," his mother said.
We washed the food down with a cup of tea, then Kathleen got the little ones tucked into the bed. She and I sat by the fire until the glow began to die down. We talked of home. She told me of her village in county Derry. I told her of my life in Ballykillin and swimming in the ocean with my brothers and running across the headlands with the wind at my back, making me feel as if I were flying. Already it seemed like a dream, or something I had read of in a book.
"So what will you do now?" Kathleen asked, leaning across to poke some life into the last of the fire.
I shrugged. "I have no idea. I had enough money to get me here but not farther. I was hoping to find a job in one of the factories, but it doesn't seem as if that's going to work, either."
"You've no kinfolk, nobody who'd take you in?"
"Nobody. My own family always said I'd come to a bad end. It looks like I'm going to prove them right. If only I could have come up with the money, maybe I'd have sailed with you on that lovely ship to America. You must be looking forward to seeing your man again, after so long."
She was still staring into the last of the fire. "Aye," she said quietly. She got up, went over to the bed, and pulled out one of the pillows. "You'll be warm enough in front of the fire," she said. "You can borrow my shawl."
"You really don't mind if I sleep on your floor tonight?" I asked. "I don't want to get you into trouble."
"You're not going anywhere else," she said. "And now that the little ones are sleeping, I've a favor to ask you in return." She sat down on the hearth rug beside me.
"Me?" I couldn't think what was coming next. Surely in my current state I was the last person on earth who could do anyone a favor.
"I want you to take the children to America for me tomorrow," she said.
I couldn't have been more caught off guard. "What?"
"When that ship sails tomorrow, I won't be going."
"They won't let me," she said flatly, staring away from me into the dying fire. "We had to have a medical exam before we could sail. The doctor says I've got consumptionthe wasting disease. TB, he called it. He said they don't let you into America with TB."
I couldn't think what to say. We just sat there, staring at the coals.
"So I can't go there but their father can't come here to get them," she said. "I want them to have a chance at a good life. They say there's opportunity in America. That's where they should be. I want you to go in my place, Molly. Take them to their daddy."
"But what will happen to you?"
I looked up. Tears were welling in her eyes. "You don't normally recover from consumption, do you? But if the Blessed Mother worked a miracle and I did get over it, then I'd be on the next ship, believe me. Until then, I'll go back to my family in county Derry. I don't doubt they'll take care of me."
Excerpted from Murphy's Law by Rhys Bowen. Copyright © 2001 by Rhys Bowen. Excerpted by permission.