A Dangerous Business

by Jane Smiley

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Cover of the book, A Dangerous Business

I wasn’t expecting to find a Jane Smiley book in the crime section of the library, though I’m not really sure why as I feel like she’s such an accomplished author that she could probably turn her hand to any genre. And this is a very fun kind of a crime novel. It’s 1851 and Eliza is taken to California by her abusive husband. Fortunately for her he gets himself into a fatal fight in a bar and leaves her alone. Prostitution turns out to be a much safer business than that kind of marriage. Well mostly.

There are occasional girls going missing from the town but no one really cares except for Eliza and her friend Jean who ape Edgar Allan Poe and investigate, the obvious place to start is with their clients.

I enjoyed this for a different look at a different time, and seeing it through the eyes of the women who were a minority and mostly invisible. I’m kind of trusting Smiley that their their experience of prostitution as a run of the mill career is reasonable and I don’t know whether I’m right to do so.

I read it because I’d previously enjoyed the author but this isn’t an example of her best work. Despite the dark theme it’s a lot lighter than I was expecting and if you’d stuck an anonymous cosy crime author name on the cover I’m not really sure the quality would have leapt out at you. I enjoyed the main characters and their story and it was a fun read but in the end something felt a bit lacking. Perhaps it just didn’t conform to the stereotype I was expecting but I don’t know if the problem was the stereotype or not.