Gods of Gotham- New York City – Lyndsay Faye

 

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Set in mid-19th century New York, this is the tale of Timothy Wilde, a ‘copper star’ in the newly formed police force.

He comes across a young girl in the streets dressed in  blood-soaked night clothes and his first real serious case starts. But this is a case which is going to the core of everything he doesn’t want to get involved in and the worse level of humour nature in a city that is changing beyond recognition.

 

 

Setting – 

 

Ahh think you know New York?

 

You haven’t seen this side of things the city that never sleeps. For it might not sleep but that doesn’t mean that the criminals have a rest or the worse of human kind come crawling out on the streets.

Five points 1827
Five points 1827

The two most iconic sites in the novel are the Five Points and the tombs – the tombs was the name for the prison and police station at the time and it was situated int he Five points area of the city – a notorious slum full of vice.

Who and want is valued in the city of this time? Talking of vagrant children –

 

Coral them like cattle, the pack them in a locked wagon rumbling up broadway to the House of Refuge. The urchins are lower in our society that the jersey cows

 

The river is the centre of it all  – life, the growing city and the arrival of the immigrants close to Nick’s bar –

East River today
East River today

The East River’s bank swarms with rickety foreign creature trying to shake off their sea legs, and Nick’s was on New Street very close to the water.

 

There is a fire at the start of the novel, an explosion and Manhattan is thrust into chaos and despair –

 

The Explosion was heard at Flushing and was supposed to be the shock of an earthquake. Cinders fell on Staten Island and for several miles over New Jersey… The New York Herald, July 1845

 

 

The author  paints a  very real and utterly convincing portrait of New York in 1845. It is grim, dark, dank and smelly. Extreme poverty and sickness are the bedfellows of many.

Neighbourhoods in New York change quicker than its weather. Spring Street where Val lives, is a mix of people in the usual every sense…

There are churches in Spring Street, eating houses smelling of pork chops with brown onions. It isn’t Broadway north of Bleeker, where the outrageously wealthy bon ton and their servants  peer down their noses at each other , but it isn’t Ward six either.

 

Ward six  – he enters via Mulberry Street –

 

“that row of godforsaken Catholic misery”

 

Mulberry Street
Mulberry Street

 

A city which has grown rapidly in size due to the influx of the irish immigrants. The Irish jostle at the bottom of the social scale alongside blacks and Catholics.

 

God save New York city from faraway blighted potatoes

 

Also of interest on this tour –

 

A very interesting angle of this book is the Flash vernacular  – the language of the rogues and criminals who walk the streets

It could be said that this was the first recorded language guide and many of our common day words and expressions have come from Flash words

Even the language paints a picture of the struggles of the time

 

Flash or flash patter is the curious dialect spoken by foister panel thieves, bruisers, dice burners, confidence men , street, rats, new hawkers, addicts and Valentine. I’ve heard tell it’s based on British Thieves’ Cant but damned if I’ve ever heard them compared.

 

This is a novel and a book trail right at the heart of the dirt, dank dark streets of the city at one of its most pivotal parts of its history.

 

Evocative is not the word – it places you right there amidst the chaos, with its cold hand on your shoulder guiding the way….

 

New York – the big apple may be rotten and the city have no chance of sleep in Ward Six but the new police force is fighting back

 

What an amazing point in time to pay a visit.

A cuppa and a cake in 1840s New York with Lyndsay Faye

Want to visit New York when the first police force was created? Yes!
Want to visit New York when the first police officers were created? Yes!

We are in for a treat today! That lovely Lyndsay Faye, author of Gods of Gotham and Seven for a Secret has only gone and popped round for a cuppa and a cake! She’s obviously heard about my fab baking skills (ahem) and so I have rustled something nice up if I do say so myself – 

The Fort Cake -does this look a bit like Castle Clinton in New York, gateway to the city? No? Try squinting....
The Fort Cake -does this look a bit like Castle Clinton in New York, gateway to the city? No? Try squinting….

I’ve made another fort cake – well it was so popular the last time and plus it also resembles a real life location in Lyndsay’s novel. Well I think it does – if you squint mind… 

Hi Lyndsay! Fancy some cake? And a cuppa?
Hi Lyndsay! Fancy some cake? And a cuppa?

Hi Lyndsay! Hope you’re hungry. I have tons of questions so take a seat here, have a turret, and there’s your tea. One lump or two?

In Seven for a Secret, the second in your series about the underworld of New York, you reveal the horrific dealings of the so called Blackbirders –  those who seized so called runaway slaves from the south – (many innocents, free men were captured instead – the story of Solomon Northup is alluded to). Why was this story so important to relate?

I think that lots of Americans know the story of the Underground Railroad that formed to try to smuggle slaves from plantations up to free states and to Canada, but hardly anyone talks about the fact that free people of color were snatched up all the time and sold in the other direction.  When I set out to write Seven for a Secret, it was based partly on Northup’s account, partly on other stories told in American Slavery as It Is, and partly on the paperwork left behind by the New York Committee of Vigilance.  At the time, the film version of Twelve Years a Slave might have been in pre-production, but I had never heard it was going to be a huge Hollywood movie.  This story was so compelling to me, the idea that African Americans from metropolitan areas could just be out for a coffee and find themselves stolen for profit.  And I was extra driven about it, because at the time conservatives were making a lot of noise about racism in America being over because Obama is president, everybody can stop worrying about it and we can get rid of voter protection laws, and that is, if you’ll pardon me, a pile of horse manure.

 

Solomon Northup
Solomon Northup

What was the landscape of America like at this time? North v South and those trying to shake off the shackles of slavery in every sense of the word?

 

You had a very interesting social and political climate because at the same time the South was screaming about defending their way of living and moneymaking, despite the (often unfeigned) horror Northerners felt about slavery, economically speaking, the North was hand in glove with the South.  The North depended on cotton for the new industrialized garment industry, they smoked the tobacco, they built carriages and cotton mills and equipment they then sold to the South.  So in that sense, everyone was making money hand over fist and people were terrified of disrupting that system.  On the other hand, the South kept demanding more favors from the North to keep slavery going–the North was supposed to police the mail so abolitionist writings wouldn’t be shipped south of the Mason-Dixon, the North was supposed to return escaped slaves, etc.  So you have two main political parties, the Whigs and the Democrats, who are not only divided against each other but divided by regional animosity.  The Congress was totally broken.  Meanwhile, millions of Americans were being bred and sold and traded and worked like cattle.  It was a horrifying time period.

 

In your first book, Gods of Gotham, you tell the story of the city at the time of the creation of the first official police force and the influx of Irish immigrants at the time . What was it about NYC at such a pivotal part of its history that captivated you?

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Well, I’m part Irish, so that’s my heritage.  But the concept was really incredibly simple–I wanted to do day one, cop one of the NYPD.  The very first police officer, and that happened in 1845–if it had happened in 1823, the book would have been set in 1823, and if it had happened in 1856, the book would have been set in 1856.  The fact that the Irish Potato Famine and the fire that destroyed downtown NYC happened that same summer were historical coincidences, but they gave me an amazing template for a novel.  Once I discovered that was what happened, I couldn’t believe no one had ever told the story before.  It astounded me.  What a crazily dramatic confluence of events!

 

Let’s go booktrailing!  Can you take us through the places that we should visit now if we wanted to really see into the heart of 1846 New York as portrayed in your books? 

A Castle Clinton B- Chinatown   C Old St Patricks and D Ear Inn
A Castle Clinton B- Chinatown C Old St Patricks and D Ear Inn

Sure, great idea!  Some of the locations are of course completely unrecognizable however.  Five Points is a perfectly clean corporate spot right by Chinatown, for instance, and even the streets have been changed.  But Old St. Patrick’s is still there, and intact, exactly as Timothy would have seen it when paying a visit to Father Sheehy.  Valentine’s house is worth a visit; there’s a very very old building that would have been quite near the water on Spring Street where Val lives, and it’s a wonderful bar called the Ear Inn–one of the best Guinness pours in the city, and a great lunch to boot.  Val would have lived on the second floor, and I described it just at it is still.  If you want to see Castle Garden where the Democrats throw their fete at the end of Seven for a Secret, that’s no longer out on the water, but it’s definitely still there, though it’s called Castle Clinton.  You can pay a visit to George Washington Matsell’s grave, he’s buried a few blocks from my old apartment at Trinity way uptown in Washington Heights.  And visit the Tenement Museum, it’s wonderful.

What is your favourite place in 1845-46 New York?

Five points 1827
Five points 1827

Oh, I’ve never been asked that before.  Interesting question.  Tim would say his favorite place in New York is Battery Park because it was about as peaceful and un-urban as possible (Central Park didn’t exist yet).  But I love these staggering stories about urban life in the mid-nineteenth century, so I think the place the best exemplifies that was the Old Brewery in Five Points.  It had been a brewery built on the Collect Pond, which then became grotesquely polluted, then was paved over, so Five Points was this horrible sinking mess from the get-go, and hundreds of people who would otherwise be homeless piled into the Old Brewery and lived in all of its decrepit floors.  What must that have been like?  I’d love to see Five Points as it was–and then get the heck out of there, naturally.

 

Name three places in present day New York that sum up the character of the city in your eyes.

The statue of Liberty B Battery Park  C World Trade Centre memorial site D Grand Central Station
A modern day booktrail through the pride of New York! – A  -The statue of Liberty B Battery Park C World Trade Centre memorial site D Grand Central Station

What a lovely idea.  Grand Central Station is one–it’s gorgeous, and always ridiculously busy and bustling, and people are coming into and out of the city all in a huge commuter rush, and at Christmas it’s full of boutiques for shopping, and there’s a hidden bar upstairs called the Campbell Apartment that used to be the home office of John W. Campbell.  There’s so much iconic history there.  Then I would say Battery Park, because New Yorkers need open spaces, and you can see the Statue of Liberty from there, and so many people poured into this amazing city and I think the shoreline exemplifies that.  And finally, the World Trade Center, because when part of New York is destroyed, we rebuild it.  Period.

That is a very positive note to finish on Lyndsay! Too true.

Thank you so much for stopping by today. I know you have a long flight back  to New York so I’ve popped the rest of the castle cake in a tupperware container. Enjoy!

And don’t forget to visit Lyndsay here to say hi – http://www.lyndsayfaye.com/

If you haven’t read either novel – do so now! – and there’ll be booktrails to come Tuesday and Wednesday…. We’ll be in New York and I for one can not wait.

Read all about it! New York news

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Set in New York –

Lena has an unique an unusual job – she is a transcriptionist – a scribe if you will who is set the task of typing audio messages to enable others to read them later.

She filters the words through her fingers as she types, the news they carry dripping steadily on to the screen in front of her. Soon Lena finds herself drowned by the sea of words and information. They flow through her fingers until one day when she finds that she just can’t let go of one story  – a woman who she met briefly only a few days earlier has been found mauled in the lions cage at the zoo.

Lena decides that she has to take this story and not let it slip through her fingers but to do something with it. But she is up against some pretty high obstacles – not to mention working in a room that no one who works in the building even seems able to find –

No one can find it. That’s the first thing. The Recording Room is on the eleventh floor, at the end of a rat-hued hallway that some workers at the newspaper have never seen; they give up on the ancient elevator, which makes only local stops with loud creaks of protest. Like New Yorkers who refuse to venture above Fourteenth Street, there are newspaper workers who refuse to go above the fourth floor for fear of being lost forever if they leave the well-lit newsroom for dark floors unknown.

New York - image courtesy of Wikipedia
New York – image courtesy of Wikipedia

Interestingly this novel comes from an author who used to work as a transcriptionist herself and so much of the book comes across as very authentic. Particularly when you consider the message and overall tone of the book since Amy Rowland’s life could have been not to different from that of Lena in some ways.

As if to mimic the cut-throat world of journalism, the writing is at times like breaking news – short and snappy and at other times like a feature piece with vivid descriptions of the workplace and ethics at play. Changing paces is this way is clever and makes it evokes the hustle and bustle of a newsroom and the personalities of those who work there.

I don’t want to say much more about it since it is the disovery of what happens and the question of ethics and voice in a newsroom that are the main themes of this book.

An old fashioned typewriter -image courtesy of Wikipedia
An old fashioned typewriter -image courtesy of Wikipedia

Out in May, you will be transported a New York newsroom and hear the voice of a single transcriptionist.

A unique premise and a subtle look at language, journalism and the meaning of all of it.

Book Advent – Day one – open the door to see which book you get….

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 24 books wrapped up in brown paper with red and white string wrapped round, holding on tight to the secret words within.

A book parcel with numbers 1 – 24 lie underneath the tree.

and it’s time to open the first one today…..

 081286-FCT

Aptly named ‘ I Heart Christmas’ is the first book in the Book Advent find.

 And we are off to NEW YORK

A tree at Rockerfeller Center - courtesy of Wikipedia
A tree at Rockerfeller Center – courtesy of Wikipedia

For those of you not familiar with Lindsey Kelk’s novels, they have a magical mix of ingredients –

Witty, often hilarious and a great way of discovering one of the most magical cities at Christmas time

This is the sixth book in the series, by reading this you still understand the characters and their relationships although I suppose reading the series in order will certainly give you an even better understanding

Angela skating at Central Park
Angela skating at Central Park

Angela, the main character of the I heart.. novels is now happily married to Alex. However Alex is starting to drop some hints about wanting to take their relationship to the next level and to start a family. Is Angela ready? She is stressed at work, has unexpected guests turn up on her doorstep just before the holidays and there are even more curve balls coming her way…but…

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Angela is struggling, having to grow up and deal with grown up issues with all the wit and charm of Angela herself – that quirky, child in an adult body syndrome that most of us can relate to at some point -especially when the added stress and excitement  of Christmas comes along.

Angela’s plans for the perfect Christmas in New York involve educating all her American friends on the traditional British Christmas

But it’s the Christmas that Angela has in New York that is so funny and a good start to your advent reading –

Eggnog from Canada - courtesy of Wikipedia
Eggnog (this brand from Canada) – courtesy of Wikipedia
Iceskating like Angela in Central Park - Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Iceskating like Angela in Central Park – Image courtesy of Wikipedia 

 On the first day of Christmas, my book advent gave to me a visit to New York courtesy of Lindsay Kelk!

Black Chalk – Oxford and New York

Set in Oxford and New York  –

Unknown

 

One game

Six students

Five survivors

 

What a premise for a thriller of a book!?

A game amongst students which starts off harmlessly enough but which escalates to something that no-one could have ever imagined.

Campus life plus peer pressure plus an obsession to win the game provides quite an explosive mix!

 

Their game starts off with childish dares and humiliations similar to those of any fresher club initiation style pranks, but with the various personalities of those taking part in the game clashing and exploding with tragic and chilling consequences.

 

To up the stakes, the game is being led and financed by Game Soc – a society which consists of a group of older students. Initially thought of as just the money and weirdness behind the game, it soon becomes clear that theirs is not so much of a backseat role as they would have you believe.

As the stakes rise and the dares become more dangerous and extreme, the student’s personalities change with them. As psychological warfare looms, those involved become sadistic and ruthless as they exploit their growing knowledge of each other via the game and want to do everything to attack the other’s defences.

The settings of Oxford and New York is neatly done as the game takes place in the university and scenes here are often fast and furious and chilling to the extreme. Contrast that with modern day New York where one of the ‘players’ is now living an OCD existence, holed up in an appartment, revealing the true scale of the mind games and mental trauma he has undoubtedly suffered.

 

An example of the stunning university architecture - New College Oxford Chapel courtesy of Wikipedia
An example of the stunning university architecture – New College Oxford Chapel courtesy of Wikipedia

Oxford is particularly well described and the descriptions of the university architecture and lifestyle is portrayed as if you were there. There is one particularly accurate literary description of the whole place –

“Living in Oxford was like living submerged in an ocean of Oscar Wildes”.

There is not much more I can say without giving away any of the plot and I would have hated to have known anymore than this before I began reading. The academic setting, the memories of fresher’s week and the dual backdrops prove to be an explosive mix.

Something that one of the characters says could be both about the game as well as the novel itself –

‘……the longer you stay in, the more dangerous things become.’

Letters from a Murderer – The writing process

 

 

John left me a letter
John left me a letter..what would it reveal?

 

Dear Booktrailer,

 

I was in fact first approached about this book by my agent, Robert Kirby. A documentary film-maker he represented had made a programme for the ‘Discovery Channel’ which explored whether Jack the Ripper might indeed have continued his killing spree 18 months later in New York. Since the murders in London had all stopped abruptly in 1890, it was always assumed that the ‘Ripper’ had either been imprisoned for other crimes or was dead. 

 

This alternate theory of a murder spree continuing in 1891 New York my agent thought might be fertile ground for a fictional series. My first thought was that the Ripper had been done many times before, even Patricia Cornwell had had a ‘stab’ at it (if you’ll excuse the pun). But the fresh ground of New York certainly hadn’t been done before and intrigued me. Also, given the success of recent Sherlock Holmes dramas in both TV and film, bringing the character to an entirely new audience 100 years on, I felt Americans in particular would ‘die’ to have their own ‘Holmes’ style crime-fighting duo – albeit that one of them is a transposed English pathologist in the form of Finley Jameson and the other a young, tough non-nonsense anti-corruption cop, Joseph Argenti (a model for the later ‘untouchables’ if you will). And this was in fact a trio with Lawrence, Jameson’s memory-man Asperger’s syndrome assistant. 

 

Once the die was cast on these main characters, the rest fell swiftly into place. The decision was made with my agent that they were far too strong to have just one crime-fighting adventure, they warranted a series, and so I started looking at other areas I wanted that series to make its mark. 

 

The first thing to strike me was that books with the tag ‘historical thriller’ were often slow and pedantic, as if the pace of that bygone age had to also be reflected in prose. However, in the course of research I discovered that there was a harder, grittier edge to many aspects of life in the late 1900s, particularly in a fast-changing city like New York, and this should be reflected too. 

 

Also a key factor with past ‘Ripper’ books had been that his victims were described remotely. We learned little about them, and certainly not their inner thoughts or what drove them. The main interest was built purely around the gore and sensation of the murders and the inability of the police to capture the Ripper. Worse still was the factor that their trade was looked down upon at the time, so this somewhat lessened sympathy for them, almost as if they were ‘asking for it’ given their line of work, or made them of lesser importance. I wanted to redress that balance, particularly given that at the time there was no social welfare net. For many women it therefore might have been the only option to feed their children. 

 

In ‘Letters’, we get closer to the victims and understand their plight. Many scenes are in fact seen from their POV, and we also get deeper inside Ellie Cullen’s little commune. This not only helps build reader sympathy, but gives a sharper edge when others might become potential victims. This therefore plumbs a somewhat fresh woman’s angle in this genre (certainly from past Ripper books), and that theme would also be developed further in the series, through Ellie Cullen and others. 

 

The gangland aspects of New York in 1891 was something I felt could not ignored. Set slap-bang between ‘Gangs of New York’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ eras, you’d hardly expect crime investigations to be taking place ‘cosy-style’ in drawing rooms over tea meanwhile. So a lot of the action is set in the meaner back alleys, sewers and run-down tenement blocks of the east side, either in confrontations with the city’s leading gangster, Michael Tierney, or in pursuit of the Ripper.

 

So those looking for a ‘cosy’ style mystery might be disappointed, might find their tea tipping in their laps in the opening chapters – but those seeking something darker and harder-edged, would hopefully find their thirst quenched.

 

With kindest regards,

John Matthews

I held the piece of paper in my hand for a while after reading the words on it,  honoured in the knowledge that he who had written Letters from a Murderer had written me a letter of my very own.

A letter to treasure

About a book to devour

Letters from a Murderer and a visit from a man in a black cape…

Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews
Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews

The darkness envelopes my house like a cloak. The rain is pummelling angrily on the windows as I look anxiously at the clock on the wall. I’ve just taken the cake out of the oven and am waiting for my guest to arrive. Even though I don’t expect him for another hour at least, there is a knock at the door. Then, to my horror, the door opens, its creak announcing the arrival of a visitor dressed in black. He appears to float towards me, although I want to scream, I find that I  can’t. Then it all goes black.

I come round a few moments later to find John Matthews sitting in the armchair smiling at me. His black cape/raincoat hanging over the side of the chair, wet from the storm. ‘Well that was some entrance!’  I tell him when at last I have found my voice.

‘Hello’ he says. ‘Sorry I’m early but I couldn’t wait for this victoria sponge you’ve been promising me any longer.’

I smile, relaxing in his friendly presence and go to fetch the cake.  He is jovial, kind and eager to talk about his book. I start to relax in his presence. Quite an apt entrance for an author who has written about Jack the Ripper!

So, once we have exchanged pleasantries and the cake is served, here is what I found out –

1. Someone has said that if Arthur Conan Doyle had been asked to write a sequel to Gangs of New York, then this would be it. How does that make you feel?

I thought that was great praise indeed and ‘spot-on’ in terms of what I’d aimed to achieve with the novel at the outset. I wanted a ‘Holmes-style’ partnership, but the gang culture of New York was so real and gritty in that era that I felt I wouldn’t be doing the book justice without covering that aspect too. So that becomes an excellent counter-point to the Ripper investigation.

2. What was your inspiration behind this novel? Apart from Jack the Ripper of course. What made you want to write this side of the story?

The basic concept for the novel stemmed from a recommendation from my agent, but I said at the outset that if I was going to develop the book I wanted it to have a distinct identity from other ‘Ripper’ books. The New York settings of course gave one marked difference, gang culture another, but the final difference was in getting ‘under the skin’ of the victims and potential victims. I felt that these had been dealt with far too remotely in past Ripper books – so Ellie Cullen and her little commune and the wider ethos of girls working on the street I wanted to deal with in a far more empathetic way. After all, there was no social security net at the time, and for many of these girls it was either work the streets or let their kids starve. Then also we have Argenti’s secret with his sister, which adds even more personal empathy to this issue.

3. What research did you need to do? 

I knew New York very well from past visits, but of course the New York now to 122 years ago is very different – so the rest was gained through exhaustive research, both through books and online.

4. How do you think setting is important in your novel?

New York of 1891 was a very changeable, vibrant period. A melting pot of cultures and fast changing. The polarity between the rich and the mean streets of the poor was even more marked then. Open sewers and non-existent sanitation in many areas, with 200 dead from cholera in one tenement building alone; these were the sort of harsh, gritty issues I wanted to bring to life in the novel.

LettersFromAMurderer-144dpi1

5. Can you tell us more about your fantastic crime fighting partnership of Jameson and Argenti? It was quite unlike anything else I had read before!

Jameson was developed as such because I felt it was important to have someone with past Ripper experience for this particular investigation; also I thought it would be interesting to have someone transposed to New York from another culture (an early ‘Englishman in New York’, if you will).

This made him very different to Joseph Argenti, a nonsense cop from a far tougher background, rising up the ranks mainly due to his anti-corruption stance. These differences cause some conflict between them initially, before they realize they have some things in common. Both cannot be bought or swayed by the city’s leading gangster, Michael Tierney, plus they also have soft spot for the city’s underdogs, waifs and strays: Jameson because of his experience with his mother, Argenti because of his sister. They then gain further mutual respect for each other through the tenacity they lend to the investigation.

I really did enjoy the partnership they had. Very interesting to hear how that all developed. Would you fancy another slice of cake? I made it myself you know. Freshly baked this morning. Yes? Here you go (Before he gets a chance to take a bite I ask him another question hehe)

6. Please tell me that there is more to come and that you will be writing a series? Any insights into what you will be writing about next?

Yes, there’s certainly more to come. In fact from foreign rights so far sold (one of which is to Random House in Germany), a number of them have in fact already bought two books in the series with more to come.

7. Which crime authors and historical writers do you most admire?

Amongst modern day writers, I’m a big fan of Dennis Lehane, Harlan Coben and Stiegg Larson. For historical thrillers, Conan Doyle (of course) and Dickens. I was particularly touched by how Dickens’ writing influenced the people of the time, made them far more aware of child labor, work houses and debtors’ prisons – to the extent that this then influenced new laws.

8. What book are you reading at the moment?

Chris Ewan’s ‘Safe House’

9. On a book trail of your novel, what would be a highlight? (interesting place, spot, character that you enjoyed researching or writing about)

Sweeney’s Shambles (which exists in real life) and the ensuing sewer scene are probably my favorites, with the river pirates and ‘crimp house’ scenes running a close second. For me this was quite an eye-opener realizing that river pirates operated in the East River docks in that era, plus crimp houses where they’d lure sailors seeking lodgings, then either poison them or cut their throats having robbed them.

New York
New York – image courtesy of Wikipedia

Thanks for talking to me today John. I love finding out about the development of a book and what the writer ‘goes through’. It’s been a real pleasure chatting with you today. That Victoria Sponge went down well hey?

There’ a little left. Want to take it home and enjoy it later?

And with that, John Matthews, author of Letters from a Murderer, says farewell and walks off into the darkness of the night. I shut the door and  go to clear the plates when I spot something on the little table beside our empty tea cups. There’s a letter, written on old faded paper with a scrawl of black ink across the top. It’s hard to read – like old fashioned writing in a calligraphy style. The words leap out at me, blurring as they dance around in front of my eyes   until I feel dizzy and have to sit down. I sit until my eyes have accustomed to the dim light and the crooked letters. They spell out –

 Jack the Ripper and the underbelly of New York. Dare to enter? Then read on…..

So, I am going to sit now and read this letter explaining about Jack the Ripper and New York. What I find, I will share with you. But for now Letters from a Murderer has taken on a very exciting and personal meaning. I have a feeling that’s not the last I’ve heard from John Matthews…

Murders in New York

Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews
Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews

Enjoy Sherlock Holmes? Read The Yard by Alex Grecian? Love a good old Victorian Murder mystery? Then this is the book for you.

Finley Jameson and Joseph Argenti are the Sherlock and Watson of Letters from a Murderer and in certain situations reminded me of one of my favourite television series WhiteChapel – especially since its subject is the aftermath of the Ripper killings and the possibility that the Ripper himself has ended up in New York to continue his killing spree.

The chemistry between Argenti and Jameson is a key and integral part of the book and both are well developed and interesting characters in their own right. They share distant and troubled pasts but they have a good solid relationship.

As the Ripper has apparently travelled across the pond to a sleazy and gritty New York, the action of the book centres here and although I love a good book trail to the actual places in the novel, I can honestly say I would not like to travel to THIS version of New York for the city is a wild savage boar and the novel lives on its underbelly.

Gangs, murders, red herrings, chases across the docks, ‘ladies of the night’….I could hear the muddy water trickling down the sides of the buildings, the rustle of a corset, the scrapping of a knife exiting a body, and the hurried footsteps on the wet, bloody cobbles.

Has the ripper travelled across to New York?
Has the ripper travelled across to New York from here in London?

I read this with my heart in my mouth for much of the action – I became so vocal that I found anyone near me gave me a funny stare – Come on! He’s around the corner – hurry!! I said, I think to myself.  A particular scene in the Opera house made me race through those chapters only to have a palpitation at the end result – no spoilers here though!

This is not just a crime or detective novel however – it is much more than that.  The depth and layers of the action was a real highlight and completely threw in  many red herrings for the readers enjoyment.

Corruption within the police force was a theme as was the insight into the type of girls that the Ripper targeted. The victims were much more than victims.

A novel with so many ingredients can only result in a fully baked Victorian drama. I am already looking towards the second installment and will certainly travel back to wherever the next book takes me.

Interview with John Mathews tomorrow! He’s popping by for some victoria sponge and a cup of tea.  Got to get baking. See you tomorrow!

Mrs Poe – a trip back in time to 1840s New York

 

mrs poe

If like me you have ever wondered what it would go back in time and meet a famous writer before he became famous – then wonder no more. This novel about Edgar Allan Poe and Mr Poe is as unique as it is intriguing. I was not only a reader when I read this book – I stepped into the parlour, to one of the private gatherings that Mr Poe attends where he reads his poem The Raven to a select group –

 

a scene for a literary gathering and dinner?
a scene for a literary gathering and dinner?

The language of the book not to mention the painstaking research that the author Lynn Cullen has carried out shines from every page. Yet this book has a surprise up behind its sleeve –

 

The title is misleading for a very good reason –

It’s not a simple love story

It’s not just about the writing of Mr Poe but his life and times

It’s a complicated in nature yet easy to read insight into the life of a great writer

 

The novel takes place over the winter of 1845 to the winter of 1846 in New York’s Greenwich Village. Not only does the author keep true to Poe’s life in terms of his poems and stories but she writes about the wider setting of the world of newspapers and publishing at that time.

 

What is particularly interesting in this novel is the fact that it is written from the perspective of Frances Osgood and not Mrs. Poe, Virginia Poe, as would be expected. I didn’t know a lot about any of these truelife characters and had only read one book of Edgar Allan Poe. However this made the book more intriguing as it made me want to find out about him and the women in his life.

 raven

Frances Osgood was a poet at the time Edgar Allan Poe was indeed having success. Frances Osgood had published children’s books including the mention in the novel of ‘Puss in Boots’. She and Edgar get on well and although it is not known whether they really did have an affair – I discover this is somewhat of a literary mystery in itself – there are many twists and turns and obstacles in their way as they meet up in secret.

osogood

This novel is so multilayered however that as your become immersed in the story, you will find yourself sneaking around in the dark and you turn the page and find that there is a literary knock on the door….

There are lots of snippets of Poe’s and Osgood’s poetry sprinkled throughout which adds to the literary setting brilliantly. Speaking of which, the changing seasons of Greenwich Village are stunning and rich in texture and you can see the changes running across every page.

 

Eerie

Captivating

Wander the dark, dank streets of 19th century New York

Walk in the footsteps of Edgar Allan Poe

Meet the women in his life

 

Experience the history of how Poe and Osgood’s work lives on today…

with a journey back in time to the beginning