The Devil’s Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch

The Devil's Half Mile Cover.jpg

Publisher: Corvus

Australian Publication Date – 25 July 2018

World Publication Date – 22 May 2018

 

The Devil’s Half Mile is a spectacular debut from new author Paddy Hirsch that combines history, mystery and financial wrongdoings into one gripping read set in the heart of historic 1799 New York.

On the eve of the 19th century, freshly graduated lawyer Justice “Justy” Flanagan, returns to his home city of New York after fighting the English in the Irish Rebellion.  Changed by his education and his memories of the vicious war, Justy is determined to investigate the tragic death of his father.  Most people believe that his father, a speculative trader, committed suicide following his role in the Wall Street Panic of 1792.  However, Justy is convinced that his father was actually murdered and he is determined to find out the truth.

After reconnecting with old friends and family, Justy starts his investigation by seeking work in the fledging Wall Street stock market.  As he begins to examine the fraud and the people that led up to the last great financial panic, he finds that his most promising leads are all long gone, while any new witnesses he encounters soon turn up dead.  In addition, Justy is drawn into the case of a brutal killer who is stalking the streets of New York, targeting women and leaving them dead and disfigured.

Establishing a connection between the death of his father, the 1792 crash and the current spate of murders, Justy finds himself embroiled in a massive conspiracy that could bring down the fledgling American nation.  With his friends in danger and with few people that he can trust, Justy must use all his skills to unravel this plot or else wind up the same way as his father.

The Devil’s Half Mile is an excellent piece of historical crime fiction that contains an impressive dark mystery designed to enthral the reader with its rich and compelling cat-and-mouse game between the protagonist and the antagonists facing him.  There are a number of great twists and turns throughout this story, as well as some truly surprising reveals, astonishing character decisions and dark and unique motivations for the underlying conspiracy.  Hirsch has also filled this book with some dark and tense moments, including a fantastic sequence in which the protagonists and his comrades engage in a shadowy fight aboard a docked ship, with both sides trying to find and outthink the other in the darkness.

A real standout part of this book is Hirsch’s fabulous use of the historical setting of New York.  Back in 1799, New York was a large town, quickly growing in size and importance.  The author includes some amazing descriptions of the city’s landscape and buildings during this period as the reader is brought back in time to this historical cityscape.  There is a real effort to showcase how the people of this era lived, and includes examinations of the people inhabiting the city and the young nation of America, with a particular focus on the criminals, the former slaves, the Wall Street traders and the fledgling police force.  The author has also done a spectacular job of conveying how people of New York felt during this time, as well as the sense they had about the importance and potential future of the city.

Hirsch has also ensured that this novel is filled with a huge amount of time-appropriate vocabulary.  This vocabulary is inserted throughout the entire story and gives it a real sense of authenticity and accuracy.  This also includes a comprehensive appendix that contains all the slang and terms used throughout the book.  If you have ever been keen to see ‘fart catcher’ or ‘snakesman’ used in context with a story, this is the book for you.

The book’s title, The Devil’s Half Mile, is a reference to Wall Street, the banking and stock-trading hub of New York.  Because of its prominence in the book’s overarching mystery storyline, significant time is spent examining the financial aspects of this young city, with a particular focus on one early example of modern economic history, the Panic of 1792.  The Panic of 1792 was a financial credit loss that rocked America only a few years after the country’s banking service was first introduced.  Hirsch, who has a financial background, explores the origins of this panic and does an amazing job tying it into the plot of the story and using it as a motive for the book’s various murders.  There are some absolutely captivating descriptions of the early Wall Street stock market, as the author explores its origns in coffee houses, how trade was undertaken, and the rules and early regulations that controlled it back then.  This examination of the stock market is a fascinating part of The Devil’s Half Mile, and all of it works well as a part of dark, murder mystery story.  Readers should also keep an eye out for mentions and brief cameos from American historical figures that were a part of the burgeoning bank scene, including Alexander Hamilton.

The author has created a great protagonist for this story.  While at first Justy seems to be a basic main character, with a huge range of skills and plans, such as being a lawyer, soldier, policeman and man familiar with the city’s criminal element, it soon becomes apparent that he has a dark side to him, as the author spends time examining his history during the 1798 Irish Rebellion.  The protagonist has been changed by his wartime experiences, and this plays well into the main story, as he tries not to let the horrors he experienced and perpetrated affect who he is.  This deeper examination of the character’s past also allows the reader a glimpse of the Irish Rebellion, a part of history rarely even mentioned in historical fiction.  Examining the cause, how it was fought and some of the people involved is a great story in itself, and I can easily see parts of it being used in future books in this series.  It also gives a bit of backstory for Lars Hokkanssen, the large half-Irish, half-Norwegian sailor comrade of Justy, who is definitely one of the best side characters in the book.

Filled with an enthralling overarching mystery and brilliant settings, this superb story is an amazing debut from newcomer Paddy Hirsch.  Featuring unique looks at underutilised parts of history and one of the best examinations of old school New York you’re likely to find in all of fiction, this is a highly recommended read and a great piece of historical fiction.

My Rating:

Four stars

2 thoughts on “The Devil’s Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch

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