Book Review: The Devil’s Half Mile

The Devil’s Half Mile, by Paddy Hirsch, is a crime thriller set in a burgeoning New York in 1799. At this time there were few laws and fewer law enforcement employees. The city was managed by racqueteers who kept a fragile peace through violence and intimidation. A recent state ruling had resulted in the freeing of a large number of slaves who vied with the Irish community for whatever low paid work they could find. The racqueteers ran brothels, collected protection money and guarded their turf through a network of spies and thuggery. Those residents with capital tried to increase their holdings via investments and scams operating through the unregulated stock market which met in busy coffee shops around Wall Street – the devil’s half mile.

Into this powder keg of risk and resentment arrives our protagonist, Justy Flanagan, fresh out of university in Ireland where he learned the law, alongside more practical skills fighting English oppressors. Justy’s uncle, The Bull, is a feared overlord in New York who took the boy in following his father’s suicide. Justy no longer believes that his father took his own life. He suspects murder and has returned seeking justice and revenge.

Justy sails into New York aboard a ship on which his good friend and former comrade in arms, Lars Hokkanssen, is working. On arrival in port he meets an old friend from his childhood, Kerry O’Toole, who has turned to a life of crime. Justy feels a degree of guilt for leaving Kerry to cope while he sought to better himself. He refuses to blame her for what she has become.

Justy locates and questions his father’s old acquaintances to discover for himself who the partners were in the financial scheme blamed for his death. He is aided by Lars but is watched by those who wish to protect their secrets. Violence follows, the death count rises and ideals are compromised. Justy becomes embroiled in sickening plans.

The squalor and brutality of a fast growing settlement are well evoked. The resentments felt by those whose jobs are threatened by a sudden influx of new workers is familiar, as is the timeless greed of those eager to make money by whatever means, including feeding abhorrent appetites. Justy is something of a trope with his high mindedness, skills in killing and moral ambiguity. Threads are set up that suggest a possible sequel.

The author offers plenty of twists as the plot progresses along with an ongoing quandary over who can be trusted. There are rather too many crises and serious injuries fought through as Justy interacts with his enemies. The historical setting is of interest but as a crime thriller I struggled to maintain engagement. A violent story built on a plausible premise but not one for me.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Corvus.


Book Review: Legacy

Legacy, by Bill Mesce Jr, opens with the brutal killing of a man at a minor league ball game. The incident is caught on camera and replayed on multiple media outlets. The perpetrator, a decorated veteran, appears as stunned as anyone about what he has done.

New York based forensic psychologist Dante DiMarchese is called in as a consultant. This is not his only case. He is also working with lawyers on an inheritance dispute between siblings contesting their father’s will. The old man is still alive but his son claims he did not have the mental capacity to make the pertinent changes.

Alongside this DiMarchese is under pressure from his publisher to pitch a book idea and then create the work by the end of the year. DiMarchese made his name, and a great deal of money, from his first publication, about a serial killer. Now the killer is threatening an exposure that could bring down the man widely credited with putting him away.

DiMarchese is not a likeable guy. He is vain, arrogant and contemptuous of those who do not emulate his affectations. He surrounds himself with carefully selected, expensive accoutrements, congratulating himself on his impeccable taste. He judges others on what they wear, where they eat and the decor in their homes. He is diligent in ensuring he cannot be found wanting in any of these areas.

DiMarchese’s determination to be cultured and stylish – never plebian – comes at a cost. He has few friends. Nevertheless he is good at his job for which he garners grudging respect.

As the cases he is working on progress chinks in the personal armour DiMarchese has built appear. He recognises something of himself in a woman he derides. He starts to question the human cost of his ambition.

This is not a morality tale but rather a peeling back of layers in a life carefully constructed. DiMarchese enjoys the fruits of his labours. In distancing himself from his background he has achieved his aspirations, but left behind those who would care for him. It is a sterile success.

The author has created an interesting protagonist. The cases are deftly presented and progressed with a supporting cast that add colour and depth. I felt expertly manipulated as my views on DiMarchese evolved, each freshly exposed layer of his character inviting increasing empathy. A proficient, enjoyable read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Impress.