by Radha Vatsal
Capability “Kitty” Weeks, 19, wants to be a newspaper reporter. But in 1915, unless a woman is Nelly Bly or Ida Tarbell, the only writing jobs available to her are on the Ladies Page.
Being sent by the New York Sentinel to cover Mrs. Elizabeth Basshor’s Independence Day gala at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club is less than Kitty had hoped for, but turns out to be her big break.
Amid the cucumber sandwiches, punch and Japanese daylight fireworks, a guest, Hunter Cole, is shot and killed in the stables. Kitty is perfectly positioned to get information and talk to the new widow and the hostess before anyone else.
It doesn’t gain her admission to the newsroom or a role much larger than collecting facts for others to write into a news story. But as police arrest first one person and then another for the murder, Kitty’s observations and reasoning suggest they are far off track. With a most unladylike curiosity, resourcefulness and determination, Kitty sets out to discover the murderer.
Author Radha Vatsal does an excellent job of weaving history into her story. Her portrait of New York City in 1915 is vivid. World War I is only months old. The RMS Lusitania has just been sunk by a German U-boat off the southern coast of Ireland. The weekend before the gala, financier John Pierpont Morgan, Jr., was shot and injured at his Long Island summer home by a man of German descent, Eric Muenter.
Kitty’s father, self-made businessman Julian Weeks, reads actual headlines out loud over breakfast, highlighting the growing tensions between the United States and Germany. Vatsal also covers the class barriers of the period. Julian is an entrepreneur who has built wealth using his business acumen. But “new” wealth, less than a generation old, is sneered at by New York high society.
The age of her family’s wealth notwithstanding, Kitty, with a Swiss boarding school education and her own car to drive about, has freedom that her tradition-bound, blue-blooded associates don’t have.
Many events in this story are actual historical ones. As the quote by Albert O. Hirschman at the beginning of the book says, “History is nothing if not far-fetched.”
In Kitty Weeks’ life truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
About the Author: Radha Vatsal
Born in Mumbai, India, Radha Vatsal came to the United States at the age of 16 to go to boarding school. She became fascinated with the 1910s when she studied women filmmakers and action-film heroines of silent cinema at Duke University, where she earned a doctorate degree.