“Time Of Fog and Fire” by Rhys Bowen is a mystery that blends crime suspense within a very potent historical setting. By using historical events and people in her books the plots become both believable and relatable. In this novel, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake almost becomes a secondary character, where it is featured prominently.
“When I write a story I always look at what has happened during that time period,” Bowen said. “For example, this book takes place in 1906. When I write about that era I don’t want to tell people about it, but want to take people to 1906. I consider myself a tour guide that has people feeling what is happening as well as being told what it was like.”
As with all her books, Bowen allows the reader to feel that they have gone back in time. In this book she gives a flavor for what it is like to be an Irish American, how corruptness was widespread, the ability to travel across country, and the effect of natural disasters upon the population. Intertwined within that is a crime that must be solved.
The two main characters, Molly Murphy Sullivan and her husband Daniel are struggling to maintain respectability while dark forces attempt to besmirch their name. As a New York police captain who believes in honesty and integrity he is contemplating resigning from a corrupt force. But an unexpected twist of fate allows him to take an assignment offered by the head of the secret service, to weed out corrupt officials in San Francisco. Molly, a former private detective, feels completely in the dark until she receives a cryptic letter from him asking her to join him in California. Embarking on a cross-country journey by train she is apprehensive of the dangers in store for her family. It is there that she must use her detective skills to find out who is responsible for the attempt on her husband’s life and their ulterior motives.
It is while doing the investigation that the earthquake hits, plummeting the city into chaos and despair. The earthquake adds to the suspense of the story as readers see the human side of natural disasters where there is a fine line between the good guys and the bad ones. Daniel and Molly not only face danger from the earthquake and subsequent fire but from corrupted officials and unsavory people who have come out of the woodworks to take advantage of the vulnerable. It becomes clear that Molly and Daniel’s personalities are very similar. Both are smart, savvy, self-sufficient, resourceful, and fearless with a sense of justice.
The author noted, “When I was doing the research I found there to be so many first hand accounts. The one that struck me the most was the army’s instruction to shoot looters on site. Here you had so many people escape from the earthquake only to be shot as they tried to retrieve some valuable heirloom of theirs. I was also touched by the fact that those who were there had no way of getting in touch with anybody. There were families disrupted. This was one of the reasons I put in the scenes of Molly and Daniel’s young son, Liam, disappearing.”
What makes this novel a stand out is how the mystery is intertwined with the historical events. The setting, dialogue, and characters, help to create an informative, suspenseful, and insightful plot.