Title: The Devil’s Half Mile
Author: Paddy Hirsch
Publisher: Forge Books
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Release Date: May 22nd, 2018
Buy This Book: Amazon/Audible
Fans of Caleb Carr, Erik Larsen, and Gangs of New York will love this riveting historical thriller debut, set in a 1799 New York City.
Seven years after a financial crisis nearly toppled America, traders chafe at government regulations, racial tensions are rising, and corrupt financiers make back-door deals with politicians… 1799 was a hell of a year.
Thanks to Alexander Hamilton, America recovered from the financial panic of 1792, but the young country is still finding its way. When a young lawyer returns to prove his father’s innocence, he exposes a massive financial fraud that the perpetrators are determined to keep secret at any cost. And reaching the highest levels, the looming crisis could topple the nation.
This is the first book I’ve read that’s set in late 1700’s New York City, but the author’s vivid and detailed descriptions brought it to life in front of my eyes. For instance, when stepping out of the harbor for the first time, our protagonist, Justy Flannigan, was greeted by:
“Woodsmoke from a thousand hearth fires, urine from the tanners’ shops, horse shit from the streets, sewage from the septic tanks, fresh blood from the abattoirs, rotting meat and produce from the tips. Bad breath, sour beer, raw spirits, stale sweat. It was like a pungent cloud rolling down the Broad Way to the water, a slap in the face of every newcomer who arrived in the city.”
The author is obviously very knowledgeable about the era and was meticulous about keeping all aspects of the book historically accurate. He used authentic language for the time period, including a lot of Irish slang. So much, in fact, that there is actually a glossary at the end of the book to help readers decipher what is being said. At the beginning, I referenced this glossary fairly often, but once I got used to the language I found I rarely needed it. There is also a map of early New York City inside the front cover, which helped me a lot with understanding the layout and locations of streets as they came up in the storyline.
However, for a thriller, I don’t think the suspense level was quite as high as it should have been. Justy is in town to investigate the mysterious circumstances of his father’s death, which he believed to be a murder even though the police ruled it a suicide (not a spoiler, it’s all explained in the first chapter). There have also been a recent rash of killings targeting “Negro Bobtails” (prostitutes), reminiscent of Jack the Ripper. At first, I was completely enraptured by this book, curious about what happened to Justy’s father and finding out if there was a serial killer on the loose, but as the book went on, I found my interest level starting to wane. There’s a bit too much of a focus on gang politics and Wall Street schemes, things I don’t normally read about or have much interest in, and not enough focus on the brutal murders or police investigations into them. That’s just my personal preference, though, and I did find my interest level picking back up again towards the end of the novel.
Overall, The Devil’s Half Mile wasn’t quite the right fit for me, but it was a beautifully written, well-researched, and authentic piece of historical fiction. I’m giving it 3/5 stars.
Thank you to Forge Books for the opportunity to read this book for free in exchange for my honest review.