Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Read more...
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From the author of the worldwide bestseller Room "Her greatest achievement yet...Emma Donoghue shows more than range with FROG MUSIC--she shows genius." -- Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life
Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead.
The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny's murderer to justice--if he doesn't track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It's the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.
In thrilling, cinematic style, FROG MUSIC digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue's lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no other.
- ISBN-13: 9780316324687
- ISBN-10: 031632468X
- Publisher: Little Brown and Company
- Publish Date: April 2014
- Page Count: 405
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-12-16
- Reviewer: Staff
Donoghue’s first literary crime novel is a departure from her bestselling Room, but it’s just as dark and just as gripping as the latter. Based on the circumstances surrounding the grizzly real-life murder of Jenny Bonnet, a law-flouting, pants-wearing frog catcher who lived in San Francisco in the mid-1870s, this investigation into who pulled the trigger is told in episodic flashbacks from the point of view of Blanche Beunon. Blanche is a raunchy, self-absorbed burlesque dancer and French émigré who befriended the alluring Bonnet and was with her on the night she was killed. Also woven into the plot is Blanche’s sordid relationship with Albert Deneve, an ex–tightrope walker, and his minion Ernest, who may have had a hand in the murder while swindling Blanche out of house, home, and one-year-old baby. Aside from the obvious whodunit factor, the book is filled with period song lyrics and other historic details, expertly researched and flushed out. The sweltering heat wave and smallpox epidemic that afflicted thousands in 1876, the Sinophobic takedown of Chinese businesses, and the proliferation of baby farms—glorified dumping grounds for unwanted babies—are all integrated into the story of Bonnet’s tragic end. Donoghue’s signature talent for setting tone and mood elevates the book from common cliffhanger to a true chef d’oeuvre. (Apr.)
Donoghue's vibrant, slangy tale of unsolved murder
Irish-born author Emma Donoghue returns to historical fiction with her first novel since the 2010 runaway bestseller Room. Frog Music was inspired by a real-life unsolved murder in 1876 San Francisco, a good three decades after the Gold Rush. Cross-dressing Jenny, a voice of surprising common sense amid the wild culture of the time, was shot in cold blood at her friend Blanche’s house, and the murderer was never found.
It is evident that history is the star of this show. Blanche, a French dancer who supports her boyfriend, injured trapeze artist Arthur, by imaginative prostitution, gets in over her head when she invests in a block of apartments and finds herself unable to stay on top of the wave. When her child, whom she had imagined to be safe and cared for outside her life, surfaces in trouble, suddenly a more respectable life begins to exert its appeal.
Jenny makes a living by catching frogs to meet the considerable local restaurant traffic’s high demand, and she and Blanche cement their new friendship during expeditions out into the swamps and streams of the backcountry. Or do the two only know each other for a few hours before disaster strikes? The story is never quite clear, but the reader who is willing to live with ambiguity will find this book endlessly intriguing. Donoghue brings the setting, a smallpox-stricken summer, almost too vividly to life: The unwilling but fascinated reader will be transfixed by her descriptions of the disease’s “opalescent slime” and “dimpled red pearls . . . all across what used to be his lovely face.” References to some 30 songs of the time, many of them familiar (“How Can I Keep From Singing?” “Somebody’s Darlin’”) add to its period allure.
The French (“Frog”) connection may be strong, but this engrossing, truth-bending story is all American. You’ll find yourself enraptured by the intricate plot developments that will keep you revising your version of the action from one hour to the next.