Adman Crabbe wrote his debut novel mostly while commuting on the Staten Island ferry (or so we’re told)—a method that has much to recommend it in this brawny, lavishly detailed detective saga about a Confederate plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge when it first opens for business in 1883.
Honest Tom Braddock is the burly heart of the story, as the Irish-American cop and veteran of the bloody days at Gettysburg whose first clue that something is amiss in a routine murder investigation comes when the dead man proves to have a tiny key in his stomach. The man, a worker on the nearly completed bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn, was also a widower who left behind a young son, a boy whom Braddock comes to care about as the investigation proceeds. But the sympathetic detective has a major conflict in his life that impedes his progress: he's on the take in a city-wide protection scheme run by his precinct captain, a creep whom Braddock is increasingly unwilling to work for. His reluctance imperils his life as well as a good chunk of his supplementary income, and when he starts piecing together the puzzle left by the corpse, there's danger from that quarter as well; he closes in on the plotters, who've had their eyes on him from the beginning—and a lot of practice in eliminating those who stumble on their secret. The Confederate mastermind, Captain Sangree, has nursed a grudge against Washington Roebling, the bridge's builder, ever since they came together at Gettysburg, where Sangree witnessed the death of his courageous younger brother. Although some among his band, having sweated and strained for 13 years in helping construct it, are now loathe to blow it up, they follow orders, and Braddock is in the race of his life without fully knowing why.
Though some stretches of incredibility crop up as this extensive plot unfolds, superb detail and abundant action make this a solid page-turner.