By Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown and Company, $27.00, 405 pages
The city of San Francisco is locked in the greatest heat wave it has ever known, General Custer and his men are getting trounced at the Little Big Horn, a smallpox epidemic sweeps the city, and a young woman is shot dead through a saloon window. In the wake of the murder of the charismatic frog catcher, Jenny Bonnet, the survivor and friend of the deceased cross-dressing miscreant, burlesque dancer Blanche Beunon risks and loses everything to bring the killers to justice.
“You can’t love two.”
Reading Emma Donoghue is always a pleasure, not only due to her mastery with words, but also owing to her tremendous storytelling skill. Frog Music moves along at a reckless speed, rivaling only Jenny’s high-wheeler. This novel inspires breathless anticipation, a slow unfurling horror and fear, the stakes rising by degrees that makes the reader anxious for Blanche, for where the murder is lurking, and feeling the heat and smallpox pressing all around. Told in a style of swapping narratives from before and after the shooting, all leading toward the dramatic conclusion, Frog Music never strikes a false note. Like Blanche’s leg show, this book will tease you to the very end. One of Donoghue’s finest.
Reviewed by Axie Barclay