Jane Smiley on her new novel, ‘A Dangerous Business’

“Between you and me, being a woman is a dangerous business.”

So says Madam Parks to young Eliza Ripple, who is now working as a prostitute in Gold Rush-era California after her brutish husband was killed in a bar fight. Eliza knows this truth all too well. But instead of letting that truth paralyze her, she leans into the danger that freedom brings.

When some of her fellow working girls go missing, Eliza and friend Jean take it upon themselves to investigate the murders — a mystery the male authorities in Monterey are content to ignore.

Jane Smiley’s newest novel, “A Dangerous Business,” is murder mystery lite, topped with a hefty dollop of feminist energy. Both Smiley and her heroines are inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” but unlike Poe, Smiley gives her characters a delightful sense of possibility.

This Friday, on Big Books and Bold Ideas, MPR News host Kerri Miller talks with Smiley about her book, the California landscape gives foundation to her book, how her fascination with Covenanters and religion, interesting things about women in the Gold Rush Era, people came and overwhelmed the infrastructure, how movement unknots problems, both in writing and in life.


  • Jane Smiley is the author of numerous novels, including “A Thousand Acres,” which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Her new book is “A Dangerous Business.”

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