A society architect joins a gang of New York, circa 1886.
In the second of architect-turned-novelist Belfoure’s historical homages to his profession (The Paris Architect, 2013), the protagonist, John Cross, is a talented designer whose rank in the city’s rarified old-money society seems assured. His wife, Helen, is related to Caroline Astor, Manhattan’s most revered hostess. Mrs. Astor’s largesse has allowed Cross’ eldest son, George, to attend Harvard, and Aunt Caroline is shepherding and financing Cross’ daughter, Julia, 17, through the byzantine ritual of making her debut. However, one whiff of scandal associated with Cross or his family would be enough to blackball him from Mrs. Astor’s good graces. When George’s intractable gambling habit leaves him owing $48,000 to the suave but depraved gangster James T. Kent, kingpin of Kent’s Gents, Cross indentures himself to the gang to pay off his son’s debt. Cross provides the Gents with blueprints of buildings he designed and instructions on how to locate and spirit away the riches they house. Meanwhile, Julia escapes her remarkably gullible chaperones to follow John Nolan, a dapper pickpocket she spots outside Lord & Taylor. Soon Nolan is introducing her to cockfights and a spectator sport known as “ratting.” Charlie, Cross’ 10-year-old second son, who, unlike Julia, lacks even the semblance of adult supervision, falls in with Eddie, a newsie, and dabbles, for a few hours each day, in the lifestyle of a street urchin. As Cross directs more and more daring heists for Kent’s Gents—Helen actually helps him target which nouveau riche family mansion to pilfer—he finds himself enjoying the thrill. However, when his older brother, Robert, a Pinkerton guard, starts investigating the crime spree, Cross’ plan to avoid scandal, not to mention bodily harm, seems doomed. Despite some improbable situations, an entertaining excursion through Gilded Age New York with all the right architectural details.
Unapologetically over the top.