NORTH RIVER by Pete Hamill


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Hamill (Forever, 2002, etc.) returns with a gritty Depression-era story about a grief-stricken doctor rejuvenated by an unwelcome challenge: raising his small grandson.

New Year’s Day, 1934: New York is buried under snow. Dr. Jim Delaney, middle-aged, Irish, is summoned to treat Eddie Corso, a mobster shot in a gang war. Delaney and Eddie were in the trenches in France in 1918; the doctor would never forsake him. He gives his friend a morphine shot and smuggles him into the hospital for surgery. When he returns to his home in downtown Manhattan, he finds a boy he’s never seen before; there’s a note from his teenage daughter Grace, pleading for him to take care of two-year-old Carlito; she’s off to Spain to look for her husband, a Mexican revolutionary. Delaney is furious with Grace, the only child he spoiled rotten, in an effort to make amends for his absence in France. His wife Molly never did forgive his volunteering to be a medic; 16 months before she had walked toward the river, never to return. Delaney has been on autopilot ever since as he attends scrupulously to his poverty-stricken patients and makes house calls. Carlito could be the last straw, but the doctor rallies with the help of Rose, an attractive Sicilian immigrant he hires to run his new household. Meanwhile, Eddie’s gangland rival is demanding to know Eddie’s whereabouts. Carlito must be protected, from the patients’ germs inside and prowling mobsters outside. Trying times, but the upside is that Delaney comes alive again, enchanted by Carlito and strongly attracted to the indispensable Rose. Hamill’s story continues strong up to the halfway point, when he runs out of plot. Delaney and Rose eventually become lovers, though Rose seems more at home in the kitchen than the bedroom. Better realized than the lovers is a vanished New York, with its appalling proneness to disease, its rough streets and hectic pleasures.

Hamill the realist prevails (mostly) over the sentimentalist in this above-average entertainment.

Pub Date: June 11th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-316-34058-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2007


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