Death in a Time of Spanish Flu (Emily Cabot Mysteries Book 9)

Written by Frances McNamara
Review by Beth Kanell

This ninth Emily Cabot mystery opens in October 1918 in Chicago. Emily is married to Dr. Stephen Chapman and hasn’t really caught up with how independent the couple’s two children have become. This moment, among the many deaths of the Spanish flu epidemic, is a terrible time to realize her family won’t do what she says—or even inform her who they’re doing things with. To Emily’s horror, both the grown children seem romantically involved, in a setting that features both poetry and political revolution.

Her discovery of her children’s newly “adult” lives takes place in the shadow of a trial: Flora Murphy, young second wife of notorious gambling king Big Mike Murphy, is charged with murder in the death of a young man who had a passion for her. Emily’s friend Fitz can’t bear the situation Flora’s in: “She’s a victim, not a villain, Emily,” he pleads, hoping she’ll come and talk sense into her other friend Detective Whitbread and perhaps even derail the court proceedings. When Emily joins the hospital-room trial, she discovers her son is involved with the grieving family of the dead man. Her own efforts to help on the case may imperil him. To her added dismay, she finds her daughter, a sculptor, also embroiled in the case, as well as in a politically left-wing club offering both poetry and union organizing, where both crime bosses and police patrol.

McNamara brings a multitude of artistic, literary, and political figures of that time into both the club and the story, which makes the book a lot of fun. The challenging chaos also helps explain why Emily loses track of what threatens her husband. Smooth writing and careful history add to the pleasure of the mystery.