Epstein effortlessly balances all of these plot lines, keeping the reader off balance by bringing some to a surprising early close. His prose is spare and taut, gripping the reader and creating an exciting pace. His sense of setting (“The Greenwich Village street was as dark as Europe’s future”) and character keep the book fresh. Epstein gives Ryder and the reader a chance to breathe in the scenes set in Ryder’s “office,” an all-night diner. His “secretary,” wise waitress Gertie, gets her own extensive arc. However, self-consciously diverse characters, such as a woman who escapes Nazi Germany and an African American man pondering entering military service on behalf of a country full of racists, feel tacked on.
Ryder himself remains the main draw, a tragic but noble character. Unlike the typical hard-boiled detective, Ryder is not a heavy drinker or a womanizer. He’s still haunted by his past and the death of his wife, and his vulnerability and complexity render him deeply compelling. His imperative is to help others, but he’s incapable of helping himself, which makes his story heartbreaking. Period details such as air-raid blackouts, automats, and the German American Bund provide a distinctive, authentic flavor to this solid historical thriller with a conscience.
Takeaway: Fans of gritty period detective stories will love this WWII-era novel's tight plotting, vivid characterization, and hero with a strong moral code.
Great for fans of Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: C