A Dangerous Business

by Jane Smiley

Eliza Ripple was forced into marriage by her parents. After her marriage she discovered that her husband had lied about being successful and he was instead going to take them to Monterey, California, to search for gold. Her husband treated Eliza like his slave so when he was killed in a bar fight after only a few months of marriage she was glad to be rid of him. But she then had the problem of what to do to earn a living. In 1851 Monterey there weren’t many options for women so when Mrs. Parks offered her a job in her brothel, Eliza took it. Mrs. Parks was kind to her girls and tried to keep them safe and Eliza was happy to be earning her own money.

Soon she became friends with Jane who was also a prostitute in a brothel but where she worked catered to women. The two women loved reading the stories written by Edgar Allen Poe and they especially liked his detective, Dupin. When young women, mostly prostitutes, began disappearing and were then found dead, the police didn’t seem overly concerned so Eliza and Jane decide to investigate the murders like Dupin in the Poe stories. However, being a woman and a prostitute is “a dangerous business” especially when you are looking for a murderer.

A Dangerous Business was an interesting book. The Gold Rush theme and setting in 1851 intrigued me but I really didn’t connect with the characters because they seemed bland to me. Eliza had to earn a living and she had limited options but she didn’t seem conflicted about becoming a proustite. I also thought that the mystery needed more suspense. The story moved rather slowly but I did like parts of it but because of the brothel scenes (not graphic) this book probably isn’t for everyone.

A Dangerous Business will be published on December 6, 2022. Thanks to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday for an Advance Reading Copy in exchange for my honest review.

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