San Francisco, 1876: a city in its infancy with raw and dangerous growing pains. The streets are not kind to women and children. Young Jenny Bonnet, only 27 years old, has seen more than her share of the ugly side of life. Her wild nature has landed her in trouble with the law time and again. Stuck in detention at an early age, in and out of jail for petty crimes, yet possessed of a carefree attitude, she dies the way she lived: violently and on the edge. A shot through a window, and Jenny is gone. She was the one friend French dancer Blanche Beunon had, and now she is no more. So Blanche is determined to bring Jenny’s killer to justice.
"Donoghue’s prose positively sings here, and marks her triumphant return following her 2010 bestseller, ROOM."
Just one month earlier, Blanche was living a happy life with her lover, Arthur Deneve, an acrobat who brought her over from France with him. But now, the insertion of Jenny into their lives has Blanche questioning many of her choices. Damn Jenny for pointing out things to which Blanche never gave a second thought, things that she now discovers should have been looked at far closer. For example, who is really taking care of their baby, P’tit? When Blanche was so ill following P’tit’s birth, Arthur arranged outside care for him. But did he really choose wisely, or did he simply find a way to rid himself of an unwanted burden? And what exactly is the role of Arthur’s friend, Ernest? The two men seem to enjoy a lively social life, generally without Blanche and at her expense. Do either of them work, or do they merely sponge off her labors? Their daily activities revolve around sex, booze and the pursuit of self-gratification. At least until Blanche is forced to re-examine her priorities.
A month is all Blanche has with Jenny before a shotgun steals her away. Their friendship forced a wedge between her new friend and her old lover. Blanche’s relationship with Arthur might have been on the rocks anyway, but Jenny shoved it over the edge without a care. All Blanche wants now is to recover her child and find out who murdered her friend. But Blanche is a showgirl, not a detective. How can she solve this heinous crime when the celebrated detectives of San Francisco are having so much trouble with it? Her success may surprise you.
Author Emma Donoghue has redrawn for us the story of a long-forgotten murder, one that remains unsolved to this day. The characters in FROG MUSIC actually existed --- at least, most of them --- living in San Francisco around the time the crime occurred. No one really knows what happened, but Donoghue’s theory works as well as any. As for her main character, Blanche, well, she’s a hard one to like. She tries --- sort of --- to make good decisions, but habitually falls short and then invents excuses to cover her failings. Still, she is one unforgettable woman. And FROG MUSIC is unforgettable as well. Donoghue’s prose positively sings here, and marks her triumphant return following her 2010 bestseller, ROOM.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on April 10, 2014