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Second Street Station: A Mary Handley Mystery
By  Lawrence Levy
Broadway Books
June 2015

Mary Handley was twelve in 1876 when she witnessed a murder. The victim was a Frenchman that was playing a machine in his train compartment that made such pleasant sounds; he closed door in her face. Mary slipped back a little later hoping to hear more of those magical sounds, but she saw a big man in a bowler hat leaving the Frenchman’s cabin with the deceased’s luggage. The Frenchman’s death looked like, and passed for, a suicide by hanging, but the little girl knew better. Mary has always been a precocious child and before the murder her ambition was to be a scientist or philosopher; after the murder she wants to become a detective. Her mother, Elizabeth, believes the finest achievement a woman can claim is to be a wife and mother. Mary’s bests her older brother Sean in just about any endeavor; but Sean is allowed to choose his life’s ambition of being a policeman and Mary is denied any formal education. She works at the Lowry Hat Factory, a sweatshop, and lives in a tiny one-room apartment in one of the worse sections of Brooklyn. She has a friend from the factory, Kate Stoddard, who lives one floor above her. Kate is engaged to be married.

Mary is well known in Sean’s precinct and she gets waylaid by a group of female protesters in front of the station picketing for the hiring of female police officers. Mary won’t join them, but Chief Patrick Campbell offers her a job with an added incentive of fifteen hundred dollars if she can catch a wanted killer before his detectives can. This makes Mary the first female detective in New York City and comes at the right time as she has just been fired from the sweatshop.

SECOND STREET STATION is a veritable font of rumors about such famous men of the late nineteenth-century as Thomas Edison, J. P. Morgan, Goodrich, and Tesla. Cocaine was considered a wonder drug and was used in over-the-counter medications and also prescribed by physicians. Some expensive wines and liqueurs were also laced with this narcotic One rumor is that the original inventor of Coca-Cola sold his formula due to his own addiction.

Lawrence Levy has spun a fantastic tongue-in-cheek story that is a page-turner and a half. Most characters are based on real people and the imagined incidents are remarkable. The conditions of the haves and have-nots, and most especially the women are depicted. The invented characters also have a real life feeling of their own. If you are an aficionado of “factoid” stories, this very clever, well written story is for you!


Betty Cox, ReaderToReader.com
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