The Morning Call (Sunday)

True crime meets history in mystery


The unsolved murder of the beautiful Dot King captivated New York. But the hype around the case proved insufficie­nt motivation to catch the killer. So what happened?

In “Broadway Butterfly,” a jazzy true-crime historical thriller, author Sara DiVello unearths piles of evidence and presents them through witnesses, detectives and journalist­s in an attempt to find out what happened to the fastliving, generous and ambitious young woman whose life was suddenly and mysterious­ly snuffed out.

All third-person, the chapters go around among reporter Julia Harpman, inspector John D. Coughlin, and Dot’s maid Ella Bradford. Each takes on their own lexicon for a personal feel of character. Julia is obsessed with reporting and the hustle of being a newspaperw­oman. Coughlin is a hardened policeman whose preconceiv­ed ideas of others are solidified. Ella came from the South and is well aware of the dangers she and her family face simply by her connection with a murdered white woman.

Then there’s Frances Stotesbury Mitchell, a high society woman ready to host the scandal-ridden President Warren G. Harding in Palm Beach ahead of his renominati­on. For those not already familiar with the history, it’s not until about a third of the way through “Broadway Butterfly” that it becomes clear why her narrative is woven into the broader story. Then, it becomes integral.

So many things muddy the investigat­ion: newbies on the force who make rookie mistakes, oldies who make assumption­s, bad interrogat­ion techniques, raw deals, classism, racism, sexism and flat-out corruption. DiVello captures it all, revelation­s unfolding one by one as tips roll in from sources and shady deals are made, replete with all the ’20s slang and swanky synonyms for which a person could hope. The tone is precise and transporti­ve.

The end result is a fascinatin­g murder mystery packed with history. However, its repetitive­ness presents a sticking point. While it underscore­s characters, it undermines the pacing. The book feels unnecessar­ily long. Still, “Broadway Butterfly” is an enjoyable read loaded with factoids. — Donna Edwards, Associated Press Lorrie Moore has loss

on her mind. Her “I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home,” is a slender, surreal, beautifull­y written novel that explores the long afterlife of love, death and domestic devotion.

It begins on the Tennessee-Kentucky line several years after the Civil War. A woman named Elizabeth, who runs a boarding house, writes a letter to her deceased sister about a mysterious lodger who may be presidenti­al assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Then it cuts to a second thread set in the 21st century on the eve of the 2016 election. A history teacher named Finn goes to see his dying brother, Max, at a hospice in the Bronx. Soon, Finn is summoned home to Illinois because his ex-girlfriend Lily, the great love of his life, has killed herself after earlier, unsuccessf­ul tries. At this point, Moore shifts into full-on Gothic ghost story mode as Finn discovers, upon visiting the cemetery, that Lily is not really and truly dead.

At her burial site, the former lovers banter amusingly, then set off on a road trip to deposit her remains at a facility in Tennessee devoted to the scientific study of corpses. On the way, Finn and Lily stop at the boarding house that Elizabeth once managed, and Finn steals the unsent letters to her sister.

Moore’s style is unmistakab­le, jam-packed with jokes, non sequiturs, alliterati­on and allusion. Virtually every page has some similarly dazzling display of verbal pyrotechni­cs, but the relentless­ness of Moore’s wordplay and erudition can also be wearying. Readers should bring a high tolerance for archaic 19th-century lingo and poetic descriptio­ns of rotting human flesh. — Ann Levin, Associated Press

By Lorrie Moore; Knopf, 208 pages, $27.
‘I AM HOMELESS IF THIS IS NOT MY HOME’ By Lorrie Moore; Knopf, 208 pages, $27.
By Sara DiVello; Thomas & Mercer, 432 pages, $28.99.
‘BROADWAY BUTTERFLY’ By Sara DiVello; Thomas & Mercer, 432 pages, $28.99.

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