The Dutton Girl
John Nolan is a recent Irish immigrant to New York City in 1915. He is poor, struggling to save money, and training for an accounting career while missing his fiancé, Sheenagh, back in Dublin and counting the days until she can afford to join him. To earn a living, he works as a private investigator, and it is in this capacity that he is hired to investigate the disappearance and ransom of a wealthy young socialite.
The mystery of Sarah Dutton’s apparent kidnapping is competently crafted, with a bevy of suspicious characters and a pleasing variety of bum leads. Nolan possesses the quiet, self-possessed demeanor of a star detective with an understated talent for his craft and an appealing habit for being right when others are wrong. His slow, methodical investigation is fun to witness, as he asks unassuming questions of colorfully aggressive characters, noodling his way toward the truth without ever seeming to break a sweat. While the victim and crime lack a certain urgency for the reader, Nolan’s deceptively mild style more than compensates.
His appeal is further cemented by his steady devotion to Sheenagh. Separated by an ocean and communicating via letters that are weeks old when they arrive and often crossed in the mail, the young lovers stay true to each other and the practical realities of responsibly planning their reunion and life together. Despite the advances of rich, beautiful women Nolan meets in the course of his work, he remains at all times loyal and therefore lovable, not just for his future wife, but for readers who appreciate his fidelity.
However, the most compelling aspect of the book is not who took a spoiled heiress or even Nolan himself, but, rather, how rich, poor, and working-class New Yorkers lived and interacted in the World War I era. Nolan’s eyes offer an absorbing glimpse into the wealthy set and the contrast their lives make to his poor but aspiring existence. The role of law enforcement and the intersection of power between police and wealthy businessmen is likewise illuminating. The mystery and its historical details out against the backdrop of a European war that is threatening west-bound ships and in general attracting notice and concern from the as-yet unengaged, but highly alerted, United States.
With such an effective setting and likable leading man, Nolan’s ultimate ascent to an accountancy seems unlikely. Instead, his skills as an investigator position him as a character who might easily recur in the form of a series, with all of New York at his feet, awaiting his thoughtful and unexpected approach to solving mysteries.
This page was created by an City Book Review staff member.
|Page Count||304 pages|
|Publisher||Coffeetown Press of Seattle|
|Amazon||Buy this Book|
|Category||Mystery, Crime & Thriller|