Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Book Review: The Devil's Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch

It took me a minute to place the author's very familiar name, especially when I looked him up in Goodreads and found... almost nothing. Just some obscure book about economics. And then it occurred to me--he's on NPR's Marketplace! I love him! (He's actually on leave to focus on his writing which is a bummer. Not the writing part, but why can't he do both?)

In 1799 New York, Justy has just returned from law school in Scotland, where he was also involved in some Scottish skirmishes. Before he left, his father committed suicide, so he returns an orphan, under the financial care of his uncle, a gangster of sorts, even though he desperately doesn't want to be under any obligation to or connection with the underworld. He wants to be upstanding and ethical, like his father. And in fact, he doesn't think his father would ever commit suicide. And as he's thought about it over the last few years, he doesn't believe that he did--he thinks he was murdered and it was staged to look like a suicide. As Justy looks into that, things quickly take a turn, as he angers some important people who want to keep things secret and won't hesitate to shut him up permanently.

A real thrilling page-turner with a cameo by Alexander Hamilton, this was a truly fun read. I think this period in American history, particularly in places like New York, is utterly fascinating and very ripe for stories, so I'm glad to see someone mining that fertile era. It really reads like a movie, very visual, with chase scenes and the like. It predates The Alienist by a century but is similar in some ways, with the old New York feel, but in this book, there's a real lawlessness I normally associate with the Wild West, as there aren't really cops (police haven't exactly been invented yet) and people to a certain extent have to police themselves and can't rely on the good guys to come save the day. Justy has to find out the truth and save himself, all by himself. (Well, with the help of a couple of friends.) Good rollicking fun.

This book is published by Forge, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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