Only Martha holds the key to a rollicking 1920s madcap mystery.
When the white 13-year-old is expelled from Catholic school for impertinence (just “why was Eve punished for knowledge?”), Martha’s Irish-immigrant mother, a housekeeper at a Fifth Avenue mansion, gets her employed as a kitchen maid. Her curious mind sets to work on the intrigues of newspaper mogul J. Archer Sewell and his “invalid” wife, who stays shut in her room along with an astounding art collection. Capable and curious Martha, however, learns that not all is as it seems. Capers ensue, in which the impending stock market collapse and yellow journalism play important roles, providing parallels to today. The costume ball at the climax includes a cast of many figures likely unfamiliar to readers, including Cole Porter, the Astors, Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, Duke Ellington, and more. Within Martha’s clearly forward-thinking but white perspective, too little of the inherent racism of the era is remarked on or observed even as she comments on its sexism. But in her second novel, Fitzgerald (Under the Egg, 2014) has neatly developed Martha as a perfectly period-appropriate spunky-girl protagonist readers will root for.
Fitzgerald balances mystery and history in a feminist narrative that invites readers to find out more. (Historical fiction. 9-13)