Elizabeth Mitchell

Books: History | Law | Distaff

The Fearless Mrs. Goodwin (2011)

the fearless mrs goodwinThis had the potential to be a fabulous story: Mrs Goodwin was the first woman to become an official New York City police detective. She worked undercover helping to take down not just fake spiritualists and others who preyed on women, but also dangerous criminals.

Instead, the writing was uneven and choppy and took me out of the flow of the story repeatedly. Take the following sentence:

Isabella lay near death for seven weeks. The baby died. One day, when John was out and she was back on her feet, an inspector came and fought her to take John's shield and fire key.

Re-reading that bothers me all over again–there is so much information missing from that short paragraph, and what is there seems oddly put–the fact she fought the inspector who came to visit seems to have more weight than her near-death experience and the loss of her child.

Which is too bad, because the author had some fabulous material to work with. Take this bit on a spiritualist Mrs. Goodwin had dealings with:

He then communed with her mother, father, sister, and brother and told her they were all glad she had embraced spiritualism. (Her mother and brother, alas, were still living.) He told her of a stock she should pick that would enable them to build a spirit church together. Finally, he pulled her close: "I can see it all. You are stoical from lack of companionship. My wife and I are not congenial. You and I could be. Won't you give me your address so that I can call?"

Instead she sent him to jail on a $3,000 bond. "He was just like all the rest of them–a mere faker," she said later. "Not one of them told the truth, and all of them assumed that I wanted a husband, which I did not."

Or this paragraph about her working conditions:

You will, she was told, work a twelve-hour shift, alternating with another matron? and a full twenty-four hour shift from Sunday to Monday, to allow the switch between day and night duty. You will have only seven days off a year, and by necessity be on call anytime a female prisoner or child is brought into the station house. You are to search all female prisoners, conduct them to their cells, and tour their cells at least once every half hour.

So, the history of Mrs. Goodwin is amazing. I just wish the writing had been as compelling as the story deserved.

Kindle Single

Rating: 5/10