Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “New York City”

HelloKatieO’s Review #62: Gods of Gotham by Lindsay Faye

This is the best mystery I’ve read this year. Set in New York City in 1845, Timothy Wilde and his unpredictable but highly political brother Val find themselves among the first police officers in NYC. One of the last major cities to form and fund a police force, the cities residents aren’t necessarily fond of the new “copper stars.”

What is the role of the police in our society? Something I’ve always taken for granted is that cops do two things: they prevent crime, and they solve crimes after they happen. In this historical fiction novel, in the early days of the police force, they had to spend their extremely limited resources on preventing crime. Protagonist Timothy Wilde proves himself far more adept at solving crimes.

During his first patrol, Timothy encounters a young girl covered in blood, and takes her home to secure her safety. This little girl, Bird, was a child prostitute working in the city who leads Timothy to a graveyard filled with the bodies of 19 children, almost surely other child prostitutes, with giant crosses cut in their midsection. Timothy finds himself trying to untangle the mystery, making enemies of politically powerful madams, his own brother, and trying to navigate the complicated religious politics (Catholic v. Protestant) of the time.

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HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review #48: In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff

The Strand is one of my favorite places in NYC. I went there on a Friday night and bought three books at $5 a piece. I grabbed this historical murder mystery off the shelf because it took place in NYC and also was set during the development of criminal profiling.

Shadow of Gotham‘s lead detective is Simon Ziele, who is working in a small upstate New York town while getting over the tragic death of his fiance. When Sarah Wingate, a female doctorate student in mathematics, is found brutally murdered in her wealthy aunt’s home,Ziele is dragged back to New York to solve her murder.

Criminal profiling is a major part of this book. Ziele works with Alistair Sinclair, who has been conducting research on criminals, and criminal rehabilitation, to track down one of Sinclair’s former research subjects suspected of murdering Wingate. The validity of the research, the special favors Sinclair calls in to make his research possible, and Sinclair’s odd assortment of staffers are almost more interesting than the murder itself.

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HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review 46: By Invitation Only by Jodi Della Femina and Sheri McInnis

When I grabbed this off the beach house shelf, I didn’t look close enough and I actually thought it was the book about the Guilt Group. It wasn’t, but it was a pleasant surprise. Plus perfect for the beach – a family drama and love story set in the Hamptons, written by two women with an insiders view on the Hamptons.

This  is standard rom-com material. Toni’s NYC restaurant fails and she moves home to the Hamptons, where she was raised as a local, to open a catering business and serve as the maid of honor in her glamorous best friend’s wedding. Toni slowly struggles to establish herself as a caterer, with a few social missteps, but ultimately her work ethic helps her business prevail. She predictably struggles with her seemingly shallow, beautiful best friend who ends up being less vapid than she appears. And she predictably meets a man, who she believes is a surfer, who’s relaxed attitude helps change her luck and helps her fall in love again.

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HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review #44: The Book Borrower by Alice Mattison

This summer, I sublet an apartment in NYC from two professors. They had a wall to wall library filled with books on political science and education, with just one shelf of fiction. I had intended to tear through the shelf, but the only book I actually ended up reading from their small fiction selection was Alice Mattison’s The Book Borrower.

This book details the friendship between two women, from beginning to end. The book is told primarily in fragments of memory of the two women, Deborah and Toby. You see them meet, become fast friends, grow their families, attempt to grow their personal and professional lives, and slowly outgrow each other.  There’s intense jealousy in the friendship, as both women are teachers trying to make their way in a struggling market. There’s also jealousy over their marriages, their past times, and the new friends they make along the way.

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #27: The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One of New York City’s Most Infamous Crimes, by Sarah Burns

Author Sarah Burns takes readers through the infamous 1989 Central Park Jogger case in The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One of New York City’s Most Infamous Crimes. Five young men, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, and Antron McCray, who came to be known as the Central Park Five, were all convicted of the rape of Trisha Meili. Over a decade later, the actual rapist, Matias Reyes, confessed, and the young men’s convictions were overturned, but the case is still surrounded by controversy.

Burns’s main agenda is to underline the racism that contributed to the arrest and conviction of the youths. She digresses into multiple historical accounts of lynchings; of innocent black men who were tortured and hanged after being accused of raping a white woman. They are sobering stories, but don’t completely parallel what was believed at the time to be a gang rape of a young woman. Burns makes a good case for the police forcing confessions and not looking for an alternate suspect, but considering the multiple related crimes perpetrated by the kids that evening, and the severity of Meili’s injuries, their tunnel vision, while unjust, is understandable. “The detectives who interrogated them believed that they were guilty from the start, and the legal – if questionable – tactics used by those detectives to extract the confessions, along with other subterfuges that probably crossed the line, caused a series of reactions in all the young men, and sometimes their families, which eventually led to coerced confessions.”

But not just the police were bent on painting the boys as guilty before they had even been tried, “… Media coverage also employed blatantly racist language and imagery. Animal references abound. When referring to the suspects, the words Wolfpack and Wilding were used hundreds of times and came to be emblems of the case, a shorthand that nearly everyone used and that still elicits memories of the Central Park Jogger’s rape in many minds.”

Burns objects to the terminology, but her description of the night’s events confirms that the group of teens, although not rapists, were a roving group who set out to do some damage. They attacked a man they called “the bum,” a pair of tandem bicyclists, and several male joggers during the course of the evening.

I lived in New York at the time of this case. I don’t remember it as being as depressed and crime-ridden as Burns reports — New York has always been a city where crime happens and people, especially women, are afraid to walk through a dark park at night. But what happened to the Central Park Jogger, the violence of the attack, and the belief that it was part of a larger series of crimes, struck fear in New Yorkers, especially women. There were, as Burns writes, countless sensationalized reports on the television news and in newspapers about “wildings” and “wolfpacks.” She relates all the finger-pointing that went on in the media to keep the story alive and to continue to cast blame on the boys and anything else reporters could think of — it’s the teens’ fault, their parents’, the state of the city, society as a whole.

The trials were a circus, with so many suspects being tried at the same time, and by less than competent lawyers. No DNA or semen samples could be connected to any of the teens in the park that night, or the ones on trial for rape. The media, including the New York Times and Daily News reported as much. A column in Newsday reported, “we are waiting to see if there is any believable evidence that will connect these kids to the crime. So far, we haven’t heard any.” But the weak case that the prosecution put forward didn’t seem to matter.

The detectives lied. The teens lied. Meili had no memory of the attack. But it was still enough for the jury to find them guilty and for the judge to sentence them as adults. Five other teens involved in the park attacks that night all pled to lesser charges. Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, and Antron McCray were convicted. Because they were juveniles (apart from Korey, who was 16 when he was arrested), their terms were limited to 5-10 years. In a rare show of compassion, hard-as-nails Judge Galligan only imposed a 5-15 year sentence on Korey for assault.

Burns describes the crime spree that the real rapist, Matias Reyes, also known as the Eastside Slasher, went on prior to the attack in Central Park. He attacked and raped several women, usually in their own homes, after following them, or making some excuse to enter their apartment. He raped and killed one young pregnant woman while her three young children were locked in a nearby bedroom. He was eventually caught and covicted and sentenced to 33 years to life in prison.

Amazingly, years later Korey and Reyes found themselves more than once at the same prison facility, and in late 2001, after talking with Korey and feeling guilty, “Reyes confessed to a prison employee that someone else at the prison was serving time for a famous crime that he had in fact committed.”
Although the reader knows in general how the story will come out, Burns still tells a compelling, suspenseful story.

Although the Central Park Five have all been declared innocent, the case, in some ways, is far from over. The NYPD, nervous about how the overturned convictions reflected on how they ran their original investigations, came up with their own report discounting the new findings and Reyes’s confession. There is a civil case against the city, police, and prosecutors still pending. Burns has collaborated with her father, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, on a theatrical film based on her book. Hopefully this book and the film will help to finally bring to light the innocence of the Central Park Five and what happened on that night in New York all those years ago.

Article first published as Book Review: The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One of New York City’s Most Infamous Crimes by Sarah Burns on Blogcritics.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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ElCicco#CBR4Review#16: The Gods of Gotham by Lindsay Faye

Set in 1845 New York City, The Gods of Gotham is a dark tale of the brutal murders of Irish child prostitutes set against the backdrop of an expanding city coming to grips with immigration (especially Irish Catholics), racism bigotry, the role and rights of women in society, religious zealotry and intolerance. TGOG also features the founding of the New York Police Department. Officers were known as “copper stars” for the badges they wore and were treated with derision and distrust.

Our hero, Timothy Wilde, is prodded into joining the force by his older brother Valentine, who is well known in the city for his involvement in the democratic party and for his work with the fire department. Faye really provides some fascinating history in this area. I had not known that the NYFD was a political organization used to sway voters to support democrats. Valentine and Timothy have a combative relationship. Val possesses many vices, including a morphine addiction, and the fact that he became a fire fighter angers Tim. Val and Tim became orphans due to fire, and a city fire in 1845 disfigured Tim and forced him to change his life plans. It’s Val who gets Tim a job on the police force when he has no other options, recognizing that Tim has skills that will be very useful for detective work — he speaks “flash”, which is a sort of street slang, and his previous job as a bartender helped him hone his skills as a listener and a reader of character.

Within his first week on the job, Tim encounters  9-year-old “kinchin mab” (child prostitute) Bird Daley, covered in blood and fearing for her life. Shortly afterward, the body of a boy, another kinchin mab, is found in a garbage can, with his chest carved open in the shape of a cross. Then, 19 more bodies similarly marked are found in shallow graves on the outskirts of town. Is this the work of an anti-Catholic zealot? Someone trying to discredit the democratic party, which is associated with the newly formed NYPD? A deranged lunatic? As panic and mob violence rise on the streets of New York, police commissioner Matsell puts Tim in charge of an unofficial investigation, making Tim New York’s first detective.

Faye did a lot of work to make her novel as historically accurate as possible. Each chapter begins with a blurb from a newspaper or tract of the time, usually highlighting the virulent anti-Irish/anti-Catholic sentiments of the period. In addition to the plight of Irish Catholics, she explores the world of African Americans, prostitutes, religious crusaders, and women. Two strong female characters are featured in TGOG: Mercy Underhill, daughter of a protestant minister, budding writer and doer of good works for the poor (no matter their religion, color, etc.), and love interest of Tim; and Silkie Marsh, the powerful madam of a house of prostitution which employs children, generous contributor to the democratic party, former love interest of Val, and a real snake-in-the-grass.

There’s not exactly a happy ending to this novel, although Tim does figure out what happened and why. Equally important, though, Tim learns some dark and hard truths about Val, Mercy and himself. It seems that Faye is setting readers up for a series featuring detective Wilde. I look forward to the next in the series, if there is to be one.

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