Book Club: Brooklyn on Fire

I'm a history buff and a literature nerd so it should come as no surprise that I quite enjoy reading a piece of historical fiction. I like to imagine that a spunky character that had the attitudes of a modern-day woman could exist in a historical context so naturally, Brooklyn on Fire was something I eagerly looked forward to reading. My thoughts on the book? Read on to find out.

Brooklyn on Fire
by Lawrence H. Levy

The year is 1890 and Mary Handley is a detective in the city of Brooklyn. After solving a case in a previous book from this series (which I will say is not necessary read in order to enjoy this one), she sets up shop in the back of small, independent bookshop owned by her friend. Not letting societal norms dictate what she can and can't do, Mary gets herself the business cards, the makes the time, and carries the determination in abundance, she finally gets a client. 
A woman hires Mary to investigate the death of her uncle who supposedly died of a heart attack. Once accepting the case, Mary ends up butting heads with New York City's wealthy elite, including the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, the Huntingtons, and the Vanderbilts. As Mary gets further into the case, she discovers many things that will shock her and the reader. 
What I usually look forward to while reading historical fiction, is how real life characters interact with a made up one. Usually, the fictional character represents in some way or other, many elements of modern-day thinking. Mary is most certainly a feminist and quite an educated one at that. But that's about all that I like about her and the liberties that Levy takes when portraying her and the actually real characters, as George Vanderbilt. 
To me, Mary didn't feel authentic as a woman in the late 19th century. I love a good feminist in my literature but I also like an authentic one! Many of her thoughts just seem far too modern to the point of unbelievability. Even the relationship between George Vanderbilt and Mary seemed far too modern! While it wasn't impossible for a wealthy man in the late 1800s to fall in love with the daughter of a butcher, was it likely? Absolutely not. What's more, George was portrayed as someone so blind to social status that this strikes a very unbelievable chord with me that quite irritated me as I read the book. This book is not a difficult read per say but I found myself so bored and annoyed with the characters, I had to constantly stop reading, thereby taking me weeks to read a book that would normally take me a day or two. 
While the writing itself isn't bad, the story just felt quite formulaic - as if I were watching a movie. Sure enough, I saw that Levy wrote for a few TV shows like Seinfeld and Roseanne. I think that if this book were a modern-day comedy (or even something that took place in the '90s), the writing would feel more authentic, but as for this book, it felt rather anachronistic and off. 
Would I recommend this book? I would say, a soft no. If you like historical fiction like I do, a definite no. If you are just looking for an easy mystery to read, possibly yes.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for an honest and fair review. All opinions expressed are my own. 


  1. I love how you go so in-depth with your reviews! It seems like the book struggled to fit in with the time period- I felt kind of the same way when I read a modern retelling of Emma and it felt like it did not read modern at all (so I guess the opposite problem of this book).

  2. I'm with you- I need my characters to be authentic to their time, so the modern thinking + relationships would probably annoy me, too. Haha. :)

    Le Stylo Rouge

  3. Such a detailed review great post .
    My blog: RumelaTheShopaholic

  4. That's a shame you didn't get on with the book too well and wouldn't recommend it, I guess everyone has their own genres of what they like. Thanks for sharing your review on it!

    Raindrops of Sapphire

  5. I don't think I would pick this one up! Such a great review.


Thank you for your comments! I read every single one :]