Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
As a girl, Anna Kerrigan visits Manhattan Beach with her father Eddie, and meets Dexter Styles, who has ties to the Syndicate. The sea calls to the three of them, and to Anna’s sister Lydia. Years later, Eddie is missing, Dexter owns a nightclub, and Anna has a tedious job at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Anna competes to be a diver at the Navy Yard, and pursues Dexter for answers about her father. We learn about Eddie’s adventures at sea, and the secrets the characters all have. While there are tender family scenes, the focus is on work, and on coworkers and crewmates. Anna takes risks and craves adventure, wanting to contribute to the war effort, reinventing herself more than once. Plenty of danger and intrigue add to the intensifying pace, leading to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion, with complex, memorable characters. Widely acclaimed, it’s a pleasure to read a book that lives up to high expectations. The first historical novel from award-winning novelist Egan, this is sure to be popular with book discussion groups.
A Burial at Sea, by Charles Finch
If you haven’t yet discovered the Charles Lenox Victorian mystery series, you’re in for a treat. You’ll want to start with the first book, A Beautiful Blue Death, but I’m going to tell you about the latest book. Charles Lenox is a new member of Parliament in 1873 when his brother, Sir Edmund, asks Charles to travel to Egypt to quietly investigate the deaths of several British agents.
Charles settles into his cabin on the Lucy, where his young nephew Teddy is making his first voyage as a midshipman. The given reason for the voyage is for Charles to meet with Egyptian officials and tour the Suez Canal. Soon after leaving England, a lieutenant is killed, and Captain Martin asks Charles to investigate. A private detective before he was elected to parliament, Charles worries that he won’t find the murderer in time, and interviews everyone he can, from ship’s officers to stewards, to ordinary seamen. There are hints of mutiny, and ultimately an exciting confrontation with some suspects. When they reach Egypt, the suspense doesn’t let up, making for an interesting mixture of historical mystery, adventure at sea, and spy story, with a little romance thrown in as Charles is missing his new wife very much. I enjoy reading this series because the setting is interesting, the characters are memorable and change over the course of the books, and the mysteries are clever. The earlier books in the series also feature Charles’ neighbor and best friend, Lady Jane Grey, along with his butler Graham and his detective protege John Dallington.
The reading order of the series is: A Beautiful Blue Death, The September Society, The Fleet Street Murders, A Stranger in Mayfair, and A Burial at Sea. The entire series is also available on compact disc. You may also enjoy The Pirate King, by Laurie King, a historical mystery about Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell that includes pirates and a movie about a Gilbert and Sullivan show.