Sunday, June 12, 2016

Walter Satterthwait, New York Nocturne: The Return of Miss Lizzie

Walter Satterthwait, New York Nocturne: The Return of Miss Lizzie
The Mysterious Press/Open Road Books, 2016
ISNBN 978-1504-02812-7

Miss Amanda Burton, who we met some years ago in Miss Lizzie (1989), has come to New York for the summer, to stay with her uncle, her father’s brother, John Burton (a stockbroker), while her father and step-mother travel around the world.  It is the summer of 1924. Several thousand speakeasies and night clubs are flourishing, and John Burton seemingly knows everyone, everywhere.  During her first week in New York, she wanders the city during the days and is escorted to various more and less savory establishments in the evenings, including a trip to the Cotton Club.  Throughout the book, Satterthwait evokes remarkably well the city in the mid-1920s, not simply recounting things, but making it live for us.

But the first week ends.  And it ends with Burton’s rather savage murder in his apartment at the Dakota.  Amanda is the only other person in the apartment at the time, and there are no indications of an intruder.  The New York police (who are not depicted as zealous pursuers of the guilty), seize on Amanda as, if not a likely suspect, someone on whom they can fasten guilt.  She is rescued by Morrie Lipkind, an attorney, and taken to the person who hired him, Miss Lizabeth Borden, in her suite at the Algonquin.  Miss Lizzie decides that it is imperative to conduct an investigation of the murder, to forestall any further actions by the police.  With Lipkind’s assistance, the assistance of Robert (Lipkind’s chauffer, etc.), PI Carl Leibowitz, and Cutter (who is something of a mystery), they begin.

They move in the real New York, against a backdrop of the people who inhabited it, including Arnold Rothstein and Dorothy Parker.  As the investigation, proceeds……well, as this conversation between Miss Lizzie and Amanda suggests.  Miss Lizzie speaks:

“It might, however, be wisest to withhold judgment until you know the complete truth.”

“But that’s the whole point, isn’t it?  We can’t ever know the complete  truth.”

“Yes,” she said, and smiled.  “That is indeed the whole point.”

 This is am immaculately constructed and written book, with what has actually transpired being revealed slowly.  The climactic scenes (there are two) would both make great theater and do make great reading. 

Whether Miss Lizzie returns for a third installment, I suspect, and sincerely hope, that we have not read the last of Amanda Burton.  If you have not yet read New York Nocturne, go to your local bookstore, or get on your computer, and buy it now.  You will not be disappointed.

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