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Book Author: Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles

IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW by Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles: Book Review

In 1908 when In Sunshine or In Shadow takes place, the Catskill Mountains aren’t the entertainment mecca that they were to become two or three decades later, nor was it yet the “Yiddish Alps,” a summer haven for Jews who were not welcome in other resorts around the state.

Instead, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Catskills are home to small farms and boarding houses that welcomed guests who took trains and electric trolleys and ferries to arrive at the fresh air vacationland a few hours north of New York City.  That summer, to escape the typhoid epidemic that is spreading in Manhattan, Molly Murphy is persuaded by her husband to spend some time at his mother’s summer home in White Plains, then a small town on the outskirts of the mountains.

It’s very relaxing, and her young son Liam is having a wonderful time, but Molly, owner of a small private detective agency, is bored.  Then she receives a letter from her close friends, Sid and Gus, inviting her to join them for a few days at the nearby all-women artists’ retreat where the couple is spending the summer.  Leaving Liam with his doting grandmother, Molly heads for the mountains to spend time with her friends.

First they must visit Sid’s relatives, who live nearby.  The Friedmans own some property, and they have plans to build a small hotel and to host visitors from the city.  Sid is happiest keeping a polite distance from her parents and grandparents, who are only too eager to see her married and become the mother of a large family.  In fact, they have already chosen her bridegroom, a professor from Manhattan.  Her family is seemingly unaware or else unwilling to acknowledge that Sid is already in a relationship with Gus, or Augusta, to give her partner her full name.

An arrangement has also been made for Sid’s niece Mira to wed another New Yorker, a Mr. Levin, even though Mira is only seventeen years old.   Neither Sid nor Mira would be forced into marriage against their will, but the pressure to do what the family wants them to do is strong.  Molly knows that Sid is mature enough to withstand this, but what about Mira?

At the same time, the women in the artists’ colony, Amicitia, are embroiled in a dispute with the owner of the nearby bluestone mine, whose stones are used to pave city streets.  The road from the mine to the train station has been illegally cut through a portion of the state forest, and passions are high between the women over what they see as a desecration of pristine land and the mine owner’s desire to run a profitable business.

Adding to the tension is a three-way dispute between the mine owner, the local forest ranger whose job it is to protect state land, and Mr. Levin.  Levin has an interest in the surrounding property and claims that he has a deed showing that he’s the rightful owner of land adjoining the mine, although no one has seen it.  He’s concerned that the mine’s blasting will keep vacationers away from his proposed resort.

All these angry feelings are motives for the unexpected death that occurs.

The mother-daughter team of Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles has written another engaging volume about private detective Molly Murphy, a smart, confident woman at a time when women are beginning to assert themselves and take a more assertive role in the world.

You can read more about the authors at various websites.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.