A young white woman named Alice James flees Prohibition-era Harlem by rail with an oozing bullet wound and a satchel containing $50,000 in cash.
She makes it cross-country to Portland, Oregon, where Max, a kindly, strapping black Pullman porter and World War I veteran, whisks her away to the novel’s eponymous hotel, populated mostly with African-Americans besieged by threats from the local Ku Klux Klan. You needn’t be an aficionado of crime melodrama or period romance for those two sentences to have you at “Hello,” and Faye (Jane Steele, 2016, etc.) more than delivers on this auspicious premise with a ravishing novel that rings with nervy elegance and simmers with gnawing tension. The myriad elements of Faye’s saga are carried along by the jaunty, attentive voice of Alice, who came by her nickname “Nobody” as a young girl growing up on the crime-infested Upper West Side of Manhattan, where she acquired the ability to hide in plain sight among the neighborhood’s mobsters, leg-breakers, and bootleggers. She calls upon this chameleonlike talent as she embeds herself among her newfound protectors, some of whom are wary of her presence. But Alice has at least one Paragon resident solidly in her corner: the stunning Blossom Fontaine, a dauntingly sophisticated cabaret singer whose own past is as enigmatic and checkered as Alice’s. Blossom, Max, and the rest of the hotel’s residents dote on a precocious, inquisitive mixed-race child named Davy Lee who vanishes from their sight one afternoon at an amusement park. As the Klan begins to show signs of renewed aggression toward Portland’s black citizenry and corrupt cops start throwing their weight around the hotel, Alice is compelled to deploy her street-wise skills with greater urgency to help find Davy Lee. In doing so, she also unravels secrets within secrets that carry deadly and transformative implications for her and for everybody around her. This historical novel, which carries strong reverberations of present-day social and cultural upheavals, contains a message from a century ago that’s useful to our own time: “We need to do better at solving things.”
A riveting multilevel thriller of race, sex, and mob violence that throbs with menace as it hums with wit.