Saturday, March 13, 2010

THE ORGAN GRINDER by Maan Meyers


I was taken with this book.

My grandfather came to the U.S. from Sicily in the 1890's.  Later, he returned to Italy to find a young  woman to be his wife.  My father was born in 1902, supposedly the day after his mother got off the boat from Italy.

They came through Ellis Island and into New York City.  They settled in New Jersey.

So, when I find a well-researched book set in New York City in the 1890's and written about the Irish, Italian, and other immigrants, I'm bound to be excited.


This book is meticulously researched, more so than most other historical mystery novels I can remember.  It is a good story besides.


The story begins with the knife murder of a prostitute,  Delia Swann.  Swann had just come from having her picture taken by Esther Breslau, a groundbreaking woman photographer.

Esther happens to be the girlfriend of John Dutch Tonneman, one of the two members of the Police Commissioner's special squad.  That squad is helping to investigate the case. 

This book is filled with murders.  

One thing about the book is that we know from the beginning who the murderer is.  The question is not "Whodunit?"  The question is not even, "Why did he do it?"   The question is, "Why is Delia's small locket so valuable?"

When the murderer fails to find the locket on the first try, he continues murdering people.  

If this nation were to become a great melting pot, it hadn't happened yet.  The book involves a whole host of "unmelted" immigrant groups. 

At one point, there is this little paragraph about the old (not the modern) St. Patrick's cathedral:  "St. Patrick was an Irish saint, and this was an Irish church.  They hated Italians here, making them go to the basement for a separate mass."

But the issue is not just the historical detail (which I found fascinating).  This is also a good story which ends with a slam-bang set of closing scenes.  

In other words, this was a detailed, but fun, book for me to read.

As I understand it, this book is the seventh in The Dutchman series of historical mysteries.  I'm sure I'll be going back to read the others.

2 comments:

Naomi Johnson said...

This does sound good, I'll put it on my list to look for.

I had a great-uncle from Italy who came through Ellis Island in 1903.

Joe Barone said...

Naomi,
There ought to be a enough of us with some Irish or Italian heritage to make books like this bestsellers.

Of course, I know that few mystery books, except a few marquee authors, are bestsellers nowadays.