Death at Chinatown
“This enjoyable mystery set in a historically accurate Chicago features a strong sense of time and place…McNamara is based in Chicago and knows the city’s geography; she uses this to her advantage by dropping in local historical references that give the story a good sense of time and place. The writing is well paced, with a large number of dialogue-driven scenes and a first-person narrator keeping the story moving.” Foreword Reviews
“McNamara’s mildly diverting fifth Emily Cabot mystery (after 2012’s Death at Woods Hole) takes readers into Chicago’s late 19th-century Chinatown…fans of historical mysteries should still enjoy this visit to 1896 America” Publisher’s Weekly
“Death at Chinatown is part of a unique detective series set in the past. This is the 5th Emily Cabot mystery. I hadn’t read the others and was able to jump right into the story and would now love to read more of Frances McNamara‘s books.” Mama Likes This blog
Death at the Fair
McNamara has a keen eye for zeroing in on how a metropolis can fuel and deplete the human spirit.”
“A compelling tale of the Chicago World’s Fair, complete with history, mystery, and a likeable heroine.”
“As in The Devil in the White City, this yarn takes place in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Fair, and like in that nonfiction bestseller, murder intrudes on the city’s cultural uplift with surprising consequences. The novel is well written.” Publishers Weekly
“Pay-to-play politics, an Olympic-sized plan to keep Chicago on the world’s stage and plenty of Irish cops and bureaucrats around to preserve, well, the order of things in this big city.
Sounds like a collection of headlines from today’s papers, but these are the actual story lines moving through Death at the Fair, which chronicles a fictitious murder mystery exposing the underbelly of the very real World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.”
Lisa Donovan. “Our Fair Lady.” Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago Sun Times. 2009. HighBeam Research. 23 Dec. 2010 .
Publishers Weekly :
“As in THE DEVIL INTHE WHITE CITY, this yarn takes place in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Fair, and like in that nonfiction bestseller, murder intrudes on the city’s cultural uplift with surprising consequences. Emily Cabot, one of the first female graduate students at the University of Chicago, invites her mother and brother to join her in the city to attend the fair along with her teacher Dr. Stephen Chapman. At the fair, Chapman turns pale as a ghost when he turns into a woman who turns out to be an old flame. When her husband is killed, and Chapman is found by the body, it is up to Emily and a rotating cast of advisors-some recognizable from your history texts, some not–to free him. The novel is well-written and without major flaws .”
“Overall, this is a spritely mystery that moves along nicely to the climax and resolution in the last few pages. McNamara does a good job of developing her major character and in capturing the Chicago of the 1890s.”
McNamara leads us on a colorful tour of the “White City,” as the fair was called. Not ignored is its seamy side, the illegal traveling card games, police graft, midway toughs, and assassination of Chicago’s mayor in the fair’s final days. Reference is made to the Haymarket affair, the establishment’s fear of “foreign anarchists,” and the powerful Chicago political machine. Most interesting is the story’s pivotal role given to the tireless crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Wells-Barnett was at the fair to promote her pamphlet protesting the fair’s exclusion of blacks. Her exposé of the lynching of blacks in the South, and the uncovering of other repressive racial attitudes, are key plot points.
Death at Hull House
“This fast-paced, enjoyable historical mystery does an excellent job plunging readers into the hubbub of activities at Hull House and the chaos resulting from the spread of smallpox.”
“In the late nineteenth century, after Emily Cabot is expelled from the University of Chicago for actions occurring while clearing a man unjustly accused of murder, she obtains a position at Hull House, assisting Jane Addams in the operation of the famous settlement house for immigrants on the West Side of Chicago. Soon after she moves in, a man who had come to see her is found bludgeoned to death. Concerned that her younger brother may be involved, Emily launches her own investigation. Meanwhile, her brother, convinced that the man who murdered their father has fled to Chicago, does some sleuthing of his own. Details concerning the operation and the people of Hull House, along with an overview of the deplorable living conditions faced by immigrants (and the lack of concern for the poor expressed by the city’s businessmen and politicians), give this novel a rich historical framework, made all the more poignant by the portrayal of the smallpox epidemic of 1893. McNamara’s historical mystery will appeal to those who enjoyed Ann Stamos’ Bitter Tide (2009), about the immigrant experience in New York City”. –Sue O’Brien
“When you’re at the mercy of both man and nature, things never look good. “Death at Hull House: An Emily Cabot mystery” tells the story of Emily Cabot, expelled from the University of Chicago and working in Jan Addams’ Hull House. When a man turns up dead, Emily finds herself hot on his trail, but with lots of suspects. Making matters worse, a smallpox epidemic seems to have overtaken Chicago. “An Emily Cabot Mystery” is a choice pick with much to enjoy for mystery fans.”
“Death at Hull House is a great historical mystery that really takes its time and feels very authentic. If you are looking for a million miles a minute fast paced thriller a la James Patterson, this book isn’t for you. It is full of historical information which can give the book a bit of a slow feel at first, but when it gets going, it is very intriguing. I really love this particular time and place in history–late 1800s Chicago. I love the backdrop of the Colombian Exposition, the social change of the time (women really fighting for the vote and beginnings of labor laws) and the way the mindset of the people in general was really shifting into modern times.”
Death at Pullman
ForeWord Reviews March 2011:
Set just one year after the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, this novel still wears vestiges of Devil in the White City, in its historical richness and the fact of a mysterious murder central to its plot. Told through the eyes of an industrious 24-year-old reformer, Emily Cabot, the story of the Pullman railroad car workers’ strike unfolds with equal portions of naivete and sophistication—just the right mix for revisiting an historical moment made all the more poignant by our own present recession.
When an economic slump hits and orders fall off for George Pullman’s luxurious train cars (many outfitted with Oriental carpets and chandeliers), his assumed philanthropy in setting up an impressive company town for his workers is put to the test—one he resoundingly fails. His workers are virtually required to live in Pullman (just south of Chicago) and rent their houses from him, but when their wages plummet, the rents are unwavering, propelling his tenants and their families into insurmountable debt and near starvation.
Cabot , who normally makes her home at Hull House (the site of an earlier mystery by McNamara), is called to gather and distribute food to the needy in Pullman. When she comes upon a hanged man and helps to lower his body to the ground, she becomes personally invested in the plight of those around her, desperately seeking some sort of resolution to the strike and an explanation for the gruesome murder.
A little romance, a lot of labor history, and the descriptive physical reality of such period details as a bomb made from nails and screws stuffed into a lead pipe and ignited by dynamite are artfully combined in McNamara’s third Emily Cabot tale. Creating a believable mix of historical and fictional characters (labor leader Eugene Debs and activist Jane Addams make appearances) is another of the author’s prime strengths as a writer. While the book’s writing is solid, with even an occasional stab at beauty—“We ran quickly and easily, the warm air rushing past us like a curtain disturbed by the wind”—Emily’s dialogue sometimes reads as exposition, conjuring an unwelcome image of high school homework.
A librarian at the University of Chicago, McNamara clearly knows, and loves, her setting. Perhaps most impressive is the way the young, single Miss Cabot navigates the dangers of her terrain with a sense of belonging and purpose, steadfastly pursuing her mission of helping to bring justice to those the system shuns.
(March) Julie Eakin
Publishers Weekly March 2011
Death at Pullman: An Emily Cabot Mystery
Frances McNamara, Allium (www.alliumpress.com), $14.99 trade paper (262p) ISBN 978-0-9840676-9-5
McNamara’s suspenseful third Emily Cabot mystery (after 2009’s Death at Hull House) convincingly recreates a pivotal moment in American labor history. In 1894, independent reformer Cabot gets involved with the downtrodden residents of Pullman, a town south of Chicago founded by railway magnate George Pullman as a model community for his workers. When Pullman, despite his idealistic intentions, slashes wages in the wake of a national recession, railway men, forced to choose between food or rent, threaten to strike. After a suspected spy for Pullman’s company is found hanged, the police discover that the man was bludgeoned to death first. Cabot fearlessly throws herself into both the murder investigation and the struggle to keep the violence from escalating. Besides plausibly depicting such historical figures as Eugene Debs and Nellie Bly, McNamara throws in some surprising twists at the end. Laurie King and Rhys Bowen fans will be delighted. (Mar.)