Frog Music by Emma Donoghue is a fascinating historical thriller taking place in 1876 San Francisco. The plot revolves around the murder of a young woman, but the true star of the story is San Francisco itself.
In 1876, San Francisco was an odd mixture of people from different cultures, all of whom had come to the city to make their fortune. There were wealthy silver & gold miners, and destitute miners who had never found a nugget. There were Chinese coolies and Italian businessmen trying to make it big in America. Then there was a whole “other” layer of society consisting of prostitutes, pimps, thieves, madams and corrupt policemen.
One of the people trying to earn her fortune is the French dancer/prostitute Blanche Beunon. She is a star dancer, who earns extra for “special performances” for rich men. She is doing do well she has been able to save money and even purchase a house.
Then Blanch’s view of the world is turned upside down when she meets Jenny, a young woman who forces Blanche to see things differently. Jenny is what we would call today a Feminist. Jenny wears men’s clothing (which was illegal at the time), carries a gun, and depends on no man to make a living.
Jenny prods Blanche into realizing that Blanche’s “fancy man” (pimp) and his friend are really just parasites living off her work. With Jenny’s prodding Blanche decides to make a painful journey to find out what really happened to Blanch’s baby; who her “fancy man” insists was given to a loving farm family. She soon discovers the horrors of what really happens to unwanted children.
Frog Music begins with Jenny being brutally murdered. The rest of the novel is the story of what lead up to that event, and clues as to who committed the crime. As the story unfolds we find out that Jenny is much more complicated than Blanche eve suspected. Was Jenny the real target, or was the murderer really after Blanche?
Frog Music is a wonderful book, which we highly recommend. Frog Music is based on a real murder, and the characters actually existed. It tells a fascinating historic tale.