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Keenan Powell
The Sorrowful Girl
Liam Barrett embodied the hopes and dreams of his family, bound for Harvard Law School. When his father unexpectedly dies, he gives up his plans and goes to work providing for his family in Adams, Massachusetts. As a policeman who abhors violence and who possesses an ability to calm agitated people, he strives to mediate disputes and keep peace in his community. When a young Adams woman is found murdered near the estate of mill owner Alistair Cunningham, Cunningham pressures Liam to make a quick arrest. But Liam wants justice. As he fights to ensure that an innocent man is not railroaded, Liam uncovers a sinister plot forcing him to choose between his pacifist conviction and his duty to protect his town.
Attorney/author Powell (Implied Consent) reveals the prejudices faced by Irish immigrants in late 19th-century Western Massachusetts as an Irish policeman seeks to solve the murder of a young Irish woman. After a tramp discovers the body of a young woman in the woods and notifies George Washington Stanley, police chief of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Stanley seeks help solving the murder from police in the neighboring town of Adams, believing that the decedent might come from there. Adams police officer Liam Barrett identifies the woman as 19-year-old Deirdre Monaghan, a young Irish Catholic woman who recently started working as a scullery maid for wealthy Alistair Cunningham, owner of a local cotton mill. Barrett’s investigation is impeded by Stanley, who wants to arrest and charge Deirdre’s beau, Finn O’Brien, despite lack of evidence, and a lack of cooperation from Cunningham’s employees and family.

Powell’s narrative resonates both as an engaging mystery and a portrait of the prejudice faced by Irish immigrants in Gilded Age Massachusetts, set against the backdrop of a wealthy industrialist whom local police officer Stanley wants in his corner. The prejudice is increasingly magnified in how the criminal justice system treats poorer, less politically-connected suspects and how the societal structure deems those persons working for the wealthy as inferior. Powell also highlights the prejudicial focus not only on the immigrants’ country of origin but on their religion, as the non-Catholic residents of the time period seem to harbor an intense dislike of Catholics.

As the author magnifies the suspense throughout the narrative, her expert use of clues, such as the discovery that Deirdre was pregnant when she was murdered, adds motive to the intent of the murder. Powell’s ability to create an explosive plotline focused on solving a crime is evidenced in her inclusion of the tenor of the time and location to add authenticity to the narrative, quickly immersing readers into the sinister nature of this murder and building to a shocking conclusion.

Takeaway: 19th century murder mystery set among Irish immigrant life.

Comparable Titles: Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles’s Wild Irish Rose, Mary Logue’s The Streel.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A