“The Paragon Hotel” by Lyndsay Faye

Genre:         Historical Fiction Mystery Hotel
Publisher:    PENGUIN GROUP Putmam
Pub. Date:   January 8, 2019

In a nutshell, this novel is about racism and the American underworld in the early twentieth century.  The novel begins in 1921, during the time of America’s Prohibition.  A young white female protagonist is on a train out of Harlem running to escape her Mafia boss who is displeased with her.  She is suffering from an untreated bullet wound.  A black male Pullman porter takes pity on her and brings her with him to his home in Portland, Oregon, which happens to be in an all-black hotel.   The story goes back and forth in chapters and settings from NYC to Oregon.

This is a difficult review to write since I had different opinions throughout the novel on whether I did or did not like the book.  I appreciate that the alternating settings begin with a real quote from each area’s non-fictional newspapers.  Plus, the author has historical endnotes.   Good research is always a plus in historical fiction.  I liked that the author chose that the scrappy little kid character, who grows up to be a mobster, is a girl rather than a boy.  This is unheard of in most mob stories.  I got a kick out of learning that at one time Harlem NY had a large Italian population know as Little Italy.  As a native New Yorker, I really should have known this.  For me, Little Italy is the infamous neighborhood located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  (I used to push my, now-grown, baby in a stroller right there on Mulberry St.)    And I thoroughly enjoyed how skillful the author is in immersing the reader in the feel of the era.  I was hooked on the visuals and the slang of the times. I was expecting Bogey or Cagney to materialize on any given page.

Then the historical fiction morphs into a mystery.  Although it is a well-written mystery, it is not needed to enhance the already interesting tale on the happenings of the young woman’s two lives:  One in white America and another in black America.  Both are filled with police that are as corrupt as the mobsters.  Nor was I wild about a couple of twists that seem thrown in for good measure.  They are decent twists, but again, not needed.  Maybe I just don’t care for the mixing of genres.  I also was not pleased that in this book, and recent others is that the theme and characters are pointedly aligned to this current dysfunctional White House administration.   I am growing weary of all the new historical novels that make anti-Trump statements without using his name.  (And, I am no fan of the 45th American President).  In this tale, I read over and over how in the 1920s the KKK expanded into the north because of the hatred against people who deemed not “truly” American.  Their motto was “America First.”  Sound familiar?  I am aware that these historical connections need to be repeated in words to serve as reminders of what can happen when politics run amok.  But, after finding this Trump-metaphor linking trend so often I, as a reader and a reviewer, need a breather from political teachable moments in my fiction.

After writing down my thoughts on the pros and cons in “The Paragon Hotel,” I discover I am still confused on whether I would recommend the book or not.  I guess it depends upon what your expectations are when venturing into the story.  I was not expecting a mystery.   Hopefully my confusion will help give you a clear picture of what you may like or dislike in the story.

Pre-Order on Amazon

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesrecord
https://www.amazon.com/gp/profile/amzn1.account.AG62PSO4DKIDR23WFXRPYGSYK65Q

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

“Mr. Campion’s War” by Mike Ripley

Genre:         Historical MysteryMr. Campion
Publisher:    Severn House
Pub. Date:   December 1, 2018

“Pop has never talked about what he did in the war.”  But at his 70th birthday party, the Englishman Albert Campion (Pop) entertains his guests with his account of his wartime experiences in Vichy France during WWII.  The story is also very much a mystery since, besides family members, the guest list includes a scar-faced German (spoiler: who during the war attempted to kill his host at least twice), and other unknown guests.  The English author, Mike Ripley, is known for writing comedy thrillers and can indeed write in a playful manner.  But let me start off by admitting that I was grateful to be reading this tale on a Kindle where I only needed to tap on a word to learn its meaning.  For example, in one paragraph you will read about the German military intelligence units such as Abwehr, Sicherheitsdients/SD, and Himmler’s SS.  On the English side, there are the military agencies M15 & M16.  Okay, I am obviously familiar with the last two.  We all have heard of the notoriously evil SS, and who hasn’t seen a Bond movie to not know what “M” stands for.

Let me also say, that in researching this novel, I learned that the author Margery Allingham (1904-1966) wrote a mystery series (24 novels) revolving around Mr. Albert Campion.  Nor is this the first time Ripley has picked up where Allingham left off.   So for me, the protagonist is read with fresh eyes.  However, it might explain why there is so much alphabet soup (military acronyms) without any previous explanations on their existence in the story.  In alternating chapters, the story goes back and forth in time.  In the present day (at the party) it is told in the third person.  During the war, the tale is told in the first person with Albert Campion’s voice— a clever way to write the story as both a mystery and a historical fiction.  All chapters have a propensity for humor.  As a spy in the war, our protagonist is assaulted by two men in an alley.  He is just about to lose consciousness when he is rescued by a policeman.  But do policemen usually have silencers on their weapons?   He thanks his savior and says, he was just about to teach them a lesson, “Once I got my breath back.”  In the present, the whole party is like a game of “Clue.”   I found the humor to be especially funny in those chapters.  Campion’s wife is every bit as witty as her husband.   “It’s amazing we wartime mothers survived at all, what with absentee husbands, the air raids and rationing, not to mention the ingratitude of one’s offspring.”  This fun novel is stuffed with historical facts.  The story could drag for those of us who were never much of a “Clue fan.”   And, if I didn’t really find all the characters believable, that did not interfere with the tale.  “Campion” is written as a tongue and cheek read.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
Leave Me Alone I am Reading & Reviewing: https://books6259.wordpress.com/
Twitter: Martie’s Book Reviews: https://twitter.com/NeesRecord