Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Rhys Bowen's Bless the Bride
What an exciting day for Jungle Red! Our very own elegant and talented Rhys Bowen has a new book in her fabulous Molly Murphy series, Bless the Bride, out as of yesterday.
And it's a special treat for me, as I've been a fan of all of Rhys's work since the very first Evan Evans book, but I feel a special affinity for the Mollys.
Bless the Bride is the tenth book in the Molly Murphy series, and in it Molly, having resisted giving up her independence, is finally getting married. She has also promised to give up her career. But she is offered one last lucrative case, which she can't
turn down. It seems easy enough--to locate a missing valuable object for a rich Chinese merchant. Things get complicated when the object turns out to be a young woman, bought and shipped from China. Molly must decide whether she can return the woman to the clutches of a cruel despot.
When he is found murdered the missing bride becomes the suspect. Molly is harboring a wanted woman and she may have single-handedly rekindled the tong wars.
DEB: Molly is a young Irish immigrant in turn-of-the-century New York, but the issues she must deal with resonate very strongly with today's women. The series seems to revolve more and more around the theme of
women's rights. Is this deliberate?
RHYS: Molly has always had a strong sense of justice so naturally she'd be drawn to cases where she felt she could right a wrong. In For the Love of Mike she sees abuses in the garment industry and gets involved in the workers' struggle. She briefly joins the Republican Brotherhood's struggle in Ireland, so it's not just women's rights that have motivated her.
But recently I find my themes do reflect the powerlessness of women at the time--the Gilded Cage of a married woman, the suffrigists being thrown into jail for daring to march. And this story was a great opportunity, given that Molly was about to marry--on her terms, her choice of husband, which I knew was not the case for many women in New York at that time.
DEB: I'm fascinated by how evocatively you portray Molly's New York. How did you do research on New York's Chinatown? And what fascinating things did you uncover?
RHYS: Of course I go to New York often and I wander Molly's streets, so that is a good starting point. I have a visual concept of Chinatown (that has now spread out to include Canal and surrounding streets... with their enticing basements where you can buy knock-off designer stuff.)
I have many photos of the period. So those are starting points. Also I have lived for 40 years next to the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia. I've spent many happy hours wandering around there. (And eating there. Great fan of dim sum, even the deep fried hen's feet.) I am used to shops with rows of ducks hanging by their necks, of fish swimming in tanks, men reading Chinese newspapers, stalls of long beans and hairy melons.
I thought I knew quite a lot about the history of the Chinese in America, but as I started to read I was horrified. We speak righteously about human rights abuses in other countries. Well--one hundred years ago our government tried to expel the Chinese. Authorities turned a blind eye when Chinese were rounded up into their huts and burned alive. A law was passed that no Chinese could become a US citizen even if born here. And no Chinese was allowed to import his family. They essentially had no rights at all.
My biggest surprise--in the 1900 census there were 3000 Chinese men living in New York's Chinatown and 30 women. Of course there could have been small-foot wives hidden away, but essentially it was a society of bachelors, working day and night and hoping to make enough money to go home. They could never fit in, because of the braid they wore, but they could never cut off the braid if they wanted to go home, because no braid meant disrespect to the emperor and instant beheading. So these poor men lived in limbo.
My other interesting fact--some Chinese men married Irish girls, who preferred a hard-working sober man to an Irish lout. But they were shunned by both societies.
I found some great first-person accounts of life in Chinatown at that time, including a map of each business on Mott Street. So I've been able to be very authentic in my details.
DEB:Will Molly really give up her career? Is this the end?
RHYS: Can you really see Molly sitting at home and giving tea parties? She may give up her business but she's not going to stop sleuthing. In fact I'm already halfway through the next book, tentatively called Hush Now, Don't you Cry.
DEB: I'm so glad to hear there's another book in the works! And I can't wait to read Bless the Bride.
You can have a peek at the first chapter (I did) on Rhys's website, http://www.rhysbowen.com/, and you can see her tour and signing schedule at http://www.rhysbowen.com/road.html, which includes Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic, and the Romantic Times Convention.
Rhys is one of my two favorite co-panelists--Rhys, Louise Penny, and I have had a great time appearing at two Bouchercons as The Three Goddesses. I can guarantee that both Rhys and her books never fail to entertain and delight!