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Death at the Fair (Emily Cabot Mysteries) Paperback – December 28, 2009
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Praisefor Death at the Fair:
"McNamarahas a keen eye for zeroing in on how a metropolis can fuel and deplete thehuman spirit."
"Acompelling 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 Chicagoduring the 1893 World's Fair, and like in that nonfiction bestseller, murderintrudes on the city's cultural uplift with surprising consequences. The novelis well written." Publisher's Weekly
"McNamara leads us on a colorfultour 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 theassassination of Chicago's mayor in the fair's final days." womeninworldhistory.com
From the Back Cover
The 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition provides a vibrant backdrop for this exciting new mystery. Emily Cabot is one of the first women graduate students at the University of Chicago, eager to prove herself in the new field of sociology. While she is busy exploring the Exposition with her family and friends, her colleague, Dr. Stephen Chapman, is accused of murder. Emily sets out to search for the truth behind the crime, but is thwarted by the thieves, corrupt politicians, and gamblers who are ever-present in Chicago. A lynching that occurred in the dead mans past leads Emily to seek the assistance of the black activist Ida B. Wells. Rich with historical details that bring turn-of-the-century Chicago to life, this novel will appeal equally to history buffs and mystery fans.
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Another problem was too much backstory being inserted at the beginning. There is too much explanation--too much "tell not show". If the author would tighten up the writing and insert some of the backstory later on as the novel unfolds, I think it has the possibility of being an excellent read.
Emily represents one of the first American women able to complete a college degree and do some postgraduate research. As spunky and fearless as she seems, she is constantly frustrated by the limits her society places on her, and the obstacles mounted against her by resentful male colleagues and members of the police. Emily's views supporting female suffrage are particularly suspect.
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.
Author's Note offers books, helpful websites, and works consulted.
Discussion Group questions are included.
Frances definitely captured the essence of the time in her descriptions and in the language her characters used. Without this I think it would be hard to understand the plot as it unfolded. I did not find it slow going in the beginning. In fact I think the descriptions gave life and color to the time period and made it easy to understand why the characters acted as they did. I agree with one of the other reviewers about the main character, Emily Cabot. I am glad she was a 19th century character and not one from our action-packed 21st. My one criticism, albeit very minor, concerned the role Emily's mother played. I would have liked more of her in the story. There was the implication that she was fairly progressive in her views and it would have been interesting to have had her play a more active role.
I really enjoyed reading this novel and am definitely looking forward to the next one Frances writes.