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Fire Marker Man
Andrew Flower. M. Swill, $7.99 e-book (324p) ISBN 979-8-9867705-1-2
An Irish immigrant in 19th-century New York City gets enmeshed in arson and insurance fraud in Flower’s wrenching debut. Robert Gillian; his wife, Aileen; and their two surviving children, Mary and Patrick, emigrate from Ireland during the 1847 famine, and Robert takes a job as a dockworker, where before long his boss convinces him to join the volunteer firefighting White Flag Engine Company. In a story reminiscent of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, the Gillians encounter an onslaught of inequities and misfortunes due in part to their status as immigrants. Patrick endures relentless bullying at school for being a Catholic, while the older Mary, at 20, quits her factory job after her boss tries to pressure her into sex. Then, after Robert moves them out of the dangerous and filthy Five Points neighborhood, Aileen dies from dysentery, the family unaware that ads for their new development’s clean water were a lie. When Robert is recruited for a job placing signs on burned-out buildings advertising insurance payouts, he doesn’t question the oddly generous income. Eventually, he’s asked to start the fires himself. Flower doles out the details of Robert’s crimes in scenes set in 1869 with Robert visited in prison by his children, adding an intriguing mystery to the solid pacing and convincing 19th-century setting. This is a thrilling exploration of slipping moral standards and the trials of an immigrant family. (Self-published)

Reviewed by Publishers Weekly on 04/28/2023