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Into the Suffering City: A Novel of Baltimore (Sarah Kennecott and Jack Harden Mysteries)
by Bill LeFurgy

Published: 2020-04-12T00:0
Paperback : 320 pages
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Baltimore, 1909. Dr. Sarah Kennecott is on the autism spectrum—a trait unidentified and unappreciated at the time. After getting fired for looking too closely into a showgirl’s killing, she refuses to back down from the investigation.

She forms an unlikely bond with Jack Harden, a ...

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Introduction

Baltimore, 1909. Dr. Sarah Kennecott is on the autism spectrum—a trait unidentified and unappreciated at the time. After getting fired for looking too closely into a showgirl’s killing, she refuses to back down from the investigation.

She forms an unlikely bond with Jack Harden, a private detective suffering from a wartime emotional trauma. Despite their differences, Sarah and Jack develop a mutual understanding and form a potent team. The pair pursue the murder case from gilded mansions to seedy barrooms while doing their best to avoid a cast of devious characters, some of whom have secrets worth killing to keep.

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Excerpt

Chapter 1

Sarah—Monday, October 11, 1909, 9:00 a.m.

Dr. Sarah Kennecott scanned the dead girl’s naked body. The corpse had a small bullet wound near the heart. The right side of the forehead had a one-inch gash over a swollen, purplish bruise, and dark material clustered under fingernails of the right hand. A shallow quarter-inch cut marked the top knuckle of the left index finger. The upper lip had a slight bulge. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. Sarah’s awkward first meeting with Jack shows how her autism makes it difficult for her to communicate and connect with others. But Jack manages to gain her trust in a way that few others have. How does he manage to do that? To what extent is it Jack himself versus Sarah’s own desire to pursue the murder investigation?

2. The early years of the 20th century featured rigid gender roles and firm rules that highlighted distinctions between classes. Sarah has no intuitive understanding of social expectations or how to meet them. To what degree does her “social blindness” hinder (or help) her as a woman, a physician, a detective, and as a nominal member of Baltimore high society?

3. Jack is a tough, street-smart guy who makes a living taking money to fix shady problems for shady characters. Despite this, do you think he has an admirable moral code overall? Do the circumstances of his life and the era force him to undertake dubious work? What role, if any, does his emotional trauma (what we call PTSD today) play?

4. How do class, money, and prejudice (racial, as well as how “neurotypicals” view those who are neurologically diverse) influence the different relationships throughout the book? Consider Sarah, Jack, Mayor Lipp, Dr. Macdonald, Margaret Bonifant, Bob Foster, and Clara Sullivan.

5. The story is told from Sarah’s and Jack’s point of view. Were there other characters whose perspective you wish you could see? How would a widened perspective change the way the mystery unfolds?

6. Did the depiction of 1909 Baltimore as corrupt, lawless, and full of chaotic change surprise you? What about the accounts of racial discrimination? Of low wages for women in the workplace and the prevalence of prostitution? Did the story challenge any of your ideas about American cities in the early 20th century?

7. The book embeds contemporary neurological issues (autism, PTSD, schizophrenia) into a historical mystery. Did you like the focus on these issues, the historical setting, or both? Why?

8. There are several villains in the book. Were any of them sympathetic, or were they consistently evil? Did you find any of them especially interesting? Which ones?

9. Would you have chosen a different ending for any of the villains? What would you like to have seen happen to them?

10. Into the Suffering City has a sequel, Murder in the Haunted Chamber, in which Sarah and Jack again partner to find a killer. What would you like to see happen? How do you think Sarah and Jack should develop as characters, both individually and together?

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