Jane Smiley on her new novel ‘A Dangerous Business’

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

Mrs. Parks says so to young Eliza Ripple, who is now working as a prostitute in Gold Rush California after her brutal husband was killed in a bar brawl. Eliza was well aware of this fact. But instead of letting that fact paralyze her, she leans into the dangers that come with her freedom.

When some of her fellow female workers go missing, Eliza and friend Jean begin investigating a murder — a mystery that Monterey’s male authorities are happy to ignore.

Jane Smiley’s latest novel, A Dangerous Business, is a pared-down murder mystery brimming with feminist energy. Both Smiley and her heroine were inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” but unlike Poe, Smiley imbues her character with a delightful sense of possibility .

This Friday, on Big Books and Bold Ideas, MPR News host Kerri Miller talks to Smiley about her book, the California landscape that laid the groundwork for her book, how she was fascinated by covenants and religion, interesting things about women in the Gold Rush era, and people showing up And drowning out the infrastructure, how the movement solves problems in writing and in life.


  • Jane Smiley is the author of several novels, including A Thousand Acres It was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Her new book is Dangerous Business.

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