Following a trail of evidence that begins with dead cats and winds through seamy cellars into the poshest Protestant parlors, a Jewish reporter lays bare some of the worst horrors of 19th-century New York.
It’s 1893, and Max Greengrass, born in Europe but as new-world and big-city as they come, writes freelance for the Herald, hoping desperately to go on salary as a regular reporter. And he may have the story (the novel’s based on an actual case) that will help him make the leap. Someone has been doing in the feral cats of Manhattan, leaving their bodies in neat rows on the stoops of the wild city’s many bawdy houses. Liberally laying on the spectacularly grubby details of life in the streets, second-novelist Blaine (The Desperate Season, 1999) situates his hard-drinking and nervy young hero in a boardinghouse between two beautiful young ladies, lovely leftist Belle Rose and zaftig photographer Gretta Sealy, both of whose charms will soften the black moments that follow Max’s discovery of a brutally slain young insurance magnate and the dismembered pieces of the supposedly deaf-and-dumb witness to that murder. The murders are related to the feline foul play that Max has been watching unfold as seemingly respectable society matrons walk the streets at night, dosing stray kitties with chloroform and then snapping their necks. Teaming up with free-loading senior reporter Nicholas Biddle, Max learns that the ladies are involved with something called the Midnight Band of Mercy, with ties to one of the most fashionable churches in town—a church that holds title to some of the most horrifying tenements anywhere, so that the cats are just the tip of the iceberg. The ladies are also involved with far greater evil, crimes that will endanger Max’s much-loved infant nephew, who is entrusted by his careless mother, Max’s show-biz sister Faye, to the most frightening day-care imaginable: a baby farm in one of those church-owned dumps.
A nice take on reporting before it got respectable.