Manbeck’s ‘Disappearance of Patricia Murphey’ is a hardboiled Heights thriller

In the early 1930s, the recently opened Patricia Murphy’s Candlelight Restaurant on Henry Street was a nice, picturesque eatery with white tablecloths and waitresses in gingham dresses that was known for its fluffy popover pastries. And within walking distance was the luxurious Hotel Margaret, one of the grand hotels of Brooklyn Heights.

Neither one of these places was a likely starting-out point for a missing persons case that ended in a murder. But they’re the locations for the opening scenes of “The Disappearance of Patricia Murphey,” the second novella in former Brooklyn Borough Historian John B. Manbeck’s “Brooklyn Heights Crime Series.”

No, “Murphey” is not a misprint. The main character is Patricia Murphey, a rebellious Philadelphia “Main Line” girl who chooses to study at the then-new Brooklyn College, which was then in temporary quarters on Adams Street. As for restaurateur Murphy, she also appears as a character in the book. To complicate matters, there’s also a Sgt. Murphy of the NYPD who investigates Murphey’s disappearance.

The action begins when Murphey storms out of Patricia Murphy’s after her mother, who is staying at the Margaret with her husband, asks whether she has let her new boyfriend touch her sexually. Patricia’s father – a rough, crude businessman with little education and underworld connection – fears that his daughter has been kidnapped into “white slavery,” a now-obsolete term for abducting women and forcing them into prostitution.

Young Patricia is just fine – we see her getting off the subway in Greenwich Village and hanging out with bohemians, radicals and jazz fans. But her father puts into motion a chain of events that stretches all the way to Mexico and ends with a real murder. Now, the police at the Poplar Street station have a real problem to worry about.

Manbeck’s book is fast paced and well written. His book contains many fascinating historical details. The Hotel Margaret and Patricia Murphy’s were real locations; there was an Enduro’s Restaurant, which later became Junior’s; commercial airlines flew out of Floyd Bennett Field at that time, and Brooklyn College was located in Downtown Brooklyn before it moved to its current Midwood campus. Many, if not most, visitors to Brooklyn Bridge Park would be surprised to learn they are standing on what once was a rough-and-tumble commercial waterfront.

As in almost every historical book, some details are incorrect. At one point, Sgt. Murphy takes the Montague Street cable car down to the docks and passes by the entrance to the Wall Street Ferry. According to online sources, both the cable car and the ferry had stopped running by 1930.

In general, however, “The Disappearance of Patricia Murphey” is a book that will delight Brooklyn history buffs and mystery fans alike. The book is available, in both paperback and Kindle editions, at amazon.com, and also features an attractive cover by Gail Smollon that features historic scenes of the Heights. We can hardly wait for the next installment in Manbeck’s Brooklyn Heights Crime Series, “Skeleton in the Attic.”