Frog Music

Emma Donoghue's Frog Music is a compelling, atmospheric literary crime novel. Animated by flawed but very human characters, it combines the suspense of her bestselling Room with elements of the historical fiction that launched her career.

Blanche is a high-priced dancer and whore in Gilded Age San Francisco. She is sitting near an open window with her new and only friend, the enigmatic cross-dresser Jenny Bonnet. Blanche bends over to untie her shoes just as a shotgun is fired, killing Jenny. Blanche is convinced the bullet was meant for her and means to find the killer--she suspects her former lover Arthur or his devoted minion, Ernest. They despise her for leaving Arthur without income, and they hate Jenny for shaming Blanche into retrieving her infant son from the baby farm where Arthur sent him after his birth. The novel cuts back and forth in time as Blanche works through the possibilities leading to the murder, tries to find her stolen son and evades her antagonists.

The result is a novel with plenty of action, rich in atmosphere and dense in historical detail. But it is, above all, a novel that belongs to its characters. One of the novel's many strengths is Blanche's gradual willingness to show her vulnerabilities alongside her growing self-respect and maternal commitment.

The essential facts of Frog Music are based on a real-life unsolved murder. Donoghue's meticulous research enhances her story with colorful slang, newspaper clippings and snippets of popular songs. But Donoghue's achievement is finally one of the imagination and rests on her ability to find the emotional heart of her characters. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

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