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Publisher: Soho Press Inc
Release Date: September 2004
ISBN: 1569473714
Format Reviewed: Hardback
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Genre:   Historical Crime [1893, New York]
Reviewed: 2004
Reviewer: Rachel A Hyde
Reviewer Notes:  Some violence

The Midnight Band of Mercy 
By Michael Blaine

     Freelance reporter Max Greengrass dreams of working full-time for The New York Herald. All he needs is a big story, something to capture his bosses' (and the fickle public's) imaginations; suddenly it looks as though he might just have it. A band of women are going around the streets of Manhattan killing feral cats, but somehow this is only the tip of the iceberg, and soon it is two-legged corpses that are turning up too. Somebody wants Max off the case and doesn't care how, but Max just wants to get to the bottom of it all and get that prized reporter's job.

     Short of a trip in a time machine, I cannot think of any better way of experiencing Manhattan in the 1890s. It is all here: the squalor, the bizarre politics, street gangs, lush lunches at The Waldorf, seedy "blind pigs," the Bellevue Hospital and some amazing true characters. This atmosphere is almost tangible, and comes off every page like a miasma. Blaine has assembled a warts-and-all cast that manages to sheer away from hissable villains and squeaky-clean heroes and presents us with raw humanity instead. Just as in real life, this is a tale of some likeable flamboyant villains and unpleasant "good guys," which lifts it way above the common run of novels. But all this redolent atmosphere and expert characterization tends to come at the price of an exciting story. It's in there, and as you read on the plot thickens and the pace increases, but if you like your books pacy this won't appeal. There is a lot to enjoy, though, and if you stick with it, the portrait of New York and its denizens will linger long in the mind; some time after the plot has been forgotten.