Many mysteries play out on the big stage of World War II–era New York, where information is the currency of the times.
Woodrow Cain—Citizen Cain, as his fellow detectives in the 14th precinct call him—steps into the drama of the city. He's damaged goods, a disgraced cop from North Carolina, wounded and emotionally scarred by a shooting, now on the NYPD thanks to his connected father-in-law (soon to be ex-). Cain is assigned a murder on the waterfront, and soon, too many policemen, high-powered lawyers, district attorneys, and mobsters are interested. So too is “the letter writer” of the title. Maximilian Danziger is a wizard of a character “whose product, as [his] business card plainly states, is information.” He speaks German, Russian, Yiddish, and Italian and writes letters to the friends and families of his illiterate clients. He's a scribe who keeps secrets, gathers information, and sees the patterns of crime in the city. Fesperman’s troop of characters, historic and fictional, makes New York come alive with conspiracy and mystery. At times, there are too many mysteries, bogging down the story and dragging the pace of the novel. Investigation of the murders of four German immigrants who are members of a fascist sect in America leads to investigation of graft within the halls of the 14th Precinct, which takes us to a cabal of leading city, intelligence, and mob figures gathered together under the flag of patriotism. But at the center of this labyrinth is the cryptic life of Danziger, a Sherlock-like creation who knows many of the answers and hides his past by manipulating information. As his story unfolds through a police file acquired by Cain, the story kicks into thriller overdrive.
Fesperman gives us a well-crafted novel steeped in the politics and street life of 1940s New York, and in the letter writer, he's created a character who will stay with you long after the last shot is fired.