The Devil’s Half Mile

The Devil’s Half Mile

Mysterious Book Report No. 352

by John Dwaine McKenna

Wall Street trickery, corrupt politics, racial strife, gangs, murder . . . that all sounds like the headlines from today’s news, but instead, it’s the lead-in on the cover of a nifty murder mystery which takes place in New York City in the year of our Lord, 1799.  Through the skill of Alexander Hamilton and the formation of a Federal Bank, the new nation has recovered from the depression of 1792, but the financial panic back then ruined a great number of speculators, and many of them are still trying to claw their way back to prosperity in a marketplace with few restrictions, no regulations and zero oversight.

The Devil’s Half Mile, (Forge/Tom Doherty Associates, $24.99, 289 pages, ISBN 978-0-7653-9913-7) by Patrick “Paddy” Hirsch, is an exciting debut murder mystery in the form of historical crime fiction.  The novel begins in New York City in the summer of 1799, where a young man named Justice Flanagan had just returned from Ireland with a brand-new law degree and a burning desire to find out who murdered his father.  Before he can make it down the gangplank of the ship that brought him home however, he’s a spectator to the racial violence that’s happening throughout the city between the increasing numbers of free blacks and poor immigrant Irishmen who’ve been coming into the city in huge numbers, as a fight breaks out on the dock between the two groups over who will get the job of unloading a nearby ship.  The melee breaks up and the work is awarded to the blacks after the body of a murdered young woman of color is pulled from the harbor, right in front of the combatants.  Justy realizes that the city has changed substantially while he’s been away . . . the ghosts of the past seek retribution, while at the same time more bodies keep turning up and the crimes of the present demand attention.  Against the backdrop of the infamous Tontine Coffee House—where more nefarious schemes were hatched than eggs at a Tyson chicken farm—Justy and his friend Kerry struggle to solve the murders, avenge his father, and along the way, uncover a plot that could destroy the young country while at the same time, keep from getting killed themselves.  The action never ceases in this fine-tuned and carefully plotted mystery that’ll educate readers at the same that it entertains them by bringing the last year of the 18th century to colorful, vivid life!

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