San Francisco, 1876: a stifling heat wave and smallpox epidemic have engulfed the City. Deep in the streets of Chinatown live three former stars of the Parisian circus: Blanche, now an exotic dancer at the House of Mirrors, her lover Arthur and his companion Ernest. When an eccentric outsider joins their little circle, secrets unravel, changing everything - and leaving one of them dead.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
The author of the harrowing international bestseller Room shows remarkable range with this historical novel set in 19th-century San Francisco. Frog Music opens with an explosive murder and weaves together a whodunit mystery with the moving story of an unlikely friendship between a French burlesque dancer and a gutsy, cross-dressing frog hunter. Emma Donoghue’s fantastically strong-willed characters and flair for depicting an anarchic, outlaw era of shifting morals and bold dreams make this heady novel a real page-turner.
Donoghue's first literary crime novel is a departure from her bestselling Room, but it's just as dark and just as gripping as the latter. Based on the circumstances surrounding the grizzly real-life murder of Jenny Bonnet, a law-flouting, pants-wearing frog catcher who lived in San Francisco in the mid-1870s, this investigation into who pulled the trigger is told in episodic flashbacks from the point of view of Blanche Beunon. Blanche is a raunchy, self-absorbed burlesque dancer and French migr who befriended the alluring Bonnet and was with her on the night she was killed. Also woven into the plot is Blanche's sordid relationship with Albert Deneve, an ex tightrope walker, and his minion Ernest, who may have had a hand in the murder while swindling Blanche out of house, home, and one-year-old baby. Aside from the obvious whodunit factor, the book is filled with period song lyrics and other historic details, expertly researched and flushed out. The sweltering heat wave and smallpox epidemic that afflicted thousands in 1876, the Sinophobic takedown of Chinese businesses, and the proliferation of baby farms glorified dumping grounds for unwanted babies are all integrated into the story of Bonnet's tragic end. Donoghue's signature talent for setting tone and mood elevates the book from common cliffhanger to a true chef d'oeuvre.