Plot: Into the Suffering City is impeccably plotted and well-paced. LeFurgy’s novel touches on racism, sexism, classism, mental health, autism, the emerging sciences, psychology, and dirty politics, all while remaining relevant and interwoven. LeFurgy expertly blends all these topics and more into a seamless, intriguing narrative.
Prose/Style: LeFurgy’s prose is intelligent, authentic, and immediately places readers in realistic turn of the century Baltimore neighborhoods. His knowledge and command of the time period and location are on full display. The writing only slows during extensive descriptions of the city.
Originality: Fans of the murder mystery genre will recognize all the elements of a great whodunit - and still won’t be able to predict all of the novel’s twists and turns. The story is enhanced by the original and authentic leads.
Character Development: LeFurgy’s novel gets so many things right - but truly shines through the protagonists, Dr. Sarah Kennicott and Private Detective Jack Harden. Dr. Kennicott is intelligent, determined, and on the autism spectrum. Harden is a war veteran who lives with PTSD. Kennicott’s neurodiversity and Harden’s mental health aren’t used as props; LeFurgy’s care in presenting and describing their experiences is evident and it greatly enhances the plot and the reader experience.
Date Submitted: April 09, 2020
Into the Suffering City offers an intriguing fictional glimpse into 1909 Baltimore as a mystery threatens to topple the city’s leaders.
When a prostitute is killed, a detective agency representing the chief suspect, a mayoral candidate, hires pathologist Sarah Kennecott to observe the victim’s autopsy. Generally deemed brilliant but peculiar due to her difficulties communicating her feelings and interpreting others’ emotions, Sarah’s autistic characteristics are not understood in an era when the concept of the disability didn’t exist. Lambasted by the police commissioner as “a spastic little freak who’s been overeducated beyond any practical use,” she remains determined to pursue the evidence.
Meanwhile, Jack Harden, an army veteran and private eye with a large gambling debt and post-traumatic stress syndrome, is also investigating the crime. Soon, Sarah and Jack cross paths and team up to solve the mystery, one that widens when another murder occurs. As they close in on the truth, their own vulnerabilities threaten to derail the investigation.
Bill LeFurgy seamlessly weaves culture, history, and mystery into this novel’s surprising twists and complex characters. As Sarah and Jack travel among Baltimore’s gritty warehouses and gilded mansions, the author highlights the contrasts of a city that sits at the border of North and South and at the crossroads of the past and future. Despite a “current of change,” corruption greases the city’s political wheels, and racism persists in a state that forbids interracial marriage.
A professional historian and archivist, LeFurgy deftly raises issues of mental health, sexism, and racism without detracting from the action. Such themes provide a more nuanced look at society and culture in Baltimore, then the country’s seventh largest city. While the story is fictional, LeFurgy describes his thorough research at book’s end.
Clear prose, intricate plotting, and likable leading characters combine to form an engrossing mystery that could easily serve as an initial title in a series.
BlueInk Heads-Up: Baltimore readers will especially enjoy this edifying look at the city’s past.
In historian and archivist LeFurgy’s debut novel, a brilliant, eccentric medical examiner exposes crime, corruption, and sexist and racist attitudes in 1909 Baltimore.
The author’s considerable research acumen is on display on each page of this sure-handed tale, which introduces pathologist Sarah Kennecott, a gifted and socially awkward recent graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Sarah, who’s presented as being on the autism spectrum (but undiagnosed), brings keen observational skills to her work. During her autopsy of dancing girl Lizzie Sullivan, Sarah comes to her own conclusions and fears that Horace Shaw, a candidate for mayor, is being framed for the murder. In order to prove her theory and bring the real killer to justice, Sarah works with private eye Jack Harden, who looks the part of a hard-boiled detective: “a tall, clean-shaven man in his late twenties, lean as a wolf, a battered derby pulled low over his eyes.” He’s an Army veteran who’s seeking to escape ghosts of the past; he also has some idiosyncrasies, including a fear of elevators. However, Jack also has a sharp sense of how money, power, and corruption are all fuel for the city’s “mad energy.” In alternating chapters, LeFurgy focuses on either Sarah’s or Jack’s perspective. The author maintains suspense throughout, and the case’s unexpected twists test the two as they use their skills to uncover the truth. What makes this mystery stand out, however, is its seamless integration of vivid details of daily life in 1909, its unflinching portrayal of the sexism and racism of the time, and its evocation of the era’s sounds, smells, and tastes. At one point, for instance, Jack walks along Baltimore Street, noticing how “the clip-clop of the passing horses was different in the rain—the sound was clearer and richer”; later, as he climbs the steps of a police station, his eyes water from the smell of a vinegar factory. An author’s note provides further information about such subjects as autism and PTSD.
A multilayered, entertaining mystery that introduces a promising pair of detectives.
Baltimore from a century ago gleams under a sinister spotlight in author Bill LeFurgy’s electric Into the Suffering City.
Dr. Sarah Kennecott is a gifted medical examiner, but eccentric behavior and a brilliant mind in a woman is not appreciated in such misogynistic times. Finding herself an unlikely ally in a local private detective, Jack Harden, she is determined to see that justice is done for a murdered showgirl, even if that means doing it outside the boundaries of the law. In a town where violence, corruption, brutality and ignorance still reign, Sarah is a fiercely independent light and a fascinating protagonist for such an intense novel.
Not only is this off-beat thriller an exciting read, but it is also a meticulously constructed homage to a past age. There is a confident matter-of-factness to the writing, a boldness that is reflected in the swagger and stylish depiction of Baltimore itself. The level of historical authenticity and research that went into this story provide a rich and vibrant world, and the constant stream of colloquial language and tiny gems of detail make the scenes sing.
Balancing complex character quirks, mysterious emotional baggage, surprising buried secrets, and riveting action sequences, Into the Suffering City is a knockout historical thriller.