This period of New York history, right around 1800, is really lacking representation in historical fiction. I can think of only a few that I have ever read set then and it’s a shame because the big names like Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, etc. were either still alive or at least still known as contemporary figures and the whole country was finally settling down to the business of being a country. New York City still had a lot of wide open spaces, pigs roamed the streets as de-facto organic garbage collectors and the citizens were starting to struggle with the growing needs for drinkable water. There was no hint of the city we all know today.
Elma Sands, a young pretty Quaker woman, comes to the city to live with her cousin and hopefully to escape the out-of-wedlock label she has been forced to wear in her small town in Northern New York. Her cousin, Catherine Ring, looks upon her as a younger sister and hopes to alleviate some of her feelings of isolation with Elma near.
Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and rising and hungry for more power. Their enmity is already set, but their ultimate confrontation was a few years away. Right then, they were the poster boys for the drive to get water to the city that was growing by leaps and bounds daily. Unfortunately, their aims were more about power and gain than by actually doing the public service of public works.
Elma falls in love with a boarder in the Ring household and while it makes Catherine worry, the risk seems to be resolving when she tells her cousin that she and her beau intend to be married as soon as they tell his brother, a right hand man of the water company. The young man looks to be in love with her and Catherine breathes a sigh of relief when the pair leave together to share the good news. The next morning, the young man is back home, but Elma is nowhere to be found.
Soon, the whole city is looking for Elma and hounding her extended family on Greenwich Street. Catherine soon learns that when it comes to dealing with the cronies of Burr and Hamilton, the public is at a distinct disadvantage. When Elma’s body is found at the bottom of a useless newly dug well, she finds herself alone in fighting for the truth and ultimately for justice.
The period was fabulously written and it is oddly comforting to see that the “haves” have always had a leg up when dealing with the “have-nots”. It is never right and always hard to swallow, but Catherine is a strong heroine that you can’t help identify with. I’ll be on the lookout for more from Eve Karlin.
City of Liars and Thieves by Eve Karlin
- Print Length: 258 pages
- Publisher: Alibi (January 13, 2015)
- Sold by: Random House LLC
- ASIN: B00LYXY076