Thanks to the fine folks at LibraryThing I received a copy of Stefanie Pintoff’s third Detective Simon Ziele novel, Secret of the White Rose to preview. I was excited to read it, having enjoyed her first novel, In the Shadow of Gotham. I have not read book two, A Curtain Falls.
White Rose takes place in 1906 New York City and features Det. Simon Ziele working to solve a series of murders committed during the sensational trial of accused anarchist, Al Dryson. The media frenzy of the Dryson case (he’s accused of attempting to blow up a Carnegie wedding party but instead kills an innocent child) and increasing tension surrounding the budding anarchist movement highlights the class consciousness of the period. Det. Ziele is normally assigned to work cases in the gritty Tenderloin district, but his associate, criminologist Alistair Sinclair’s upper-crust connections soon unwillingly embroil him in the Gramercy Park murder of a prominent judge. Ziele must rely on his own burgeoning investigatory instincts and Sinclair’s unorthodox methods to find the killer despite pressure from the police commissioner to pin the death on anarchists. Along the way Ziele is pulled among his working-class roots and appeals for much needed social reform, his tenuous outsider status in the good old boy police department, and the reality that the power and money of the elite drive New York’s legal, political, and social machinery.
I was not expecting to like Pintoff’s book once I realized how much of it would be devoted to the anarchist movement; I’m not really very interested in Emma Goldman or the Black Hand. It’s a tribute to Pintoff’s skill as a writer that I kept reading despite my disinterest in the political and social movements. She drew me into Ziele’s world and made me see the relevance of the anarchist movement to the Simon’s past (despite his success as a detective he’s still a young man from very humble beginnings) and turn of the century New York. Pintoff made me think not only about her plot line but about historical similarities between the past and our present. The disparity between rich and poor is as heightened now as it was in Gilded Age New York
Is Pintoff the next Caleb Carr as hinted at by a blurb from the Huffington Post on the back of my ARC? I’m not ready to hand the mantle over just yet. While I can see some similarities (turn of the century New York setting, new methods in crime solving, a serial killer), the grittiness of Carr’s New York just isn’t present in Pintoff’s prose. She’s a good author with intriguing characters but I feel like we’re still just scratching the surface. I kept wanting to know more about what drives Sinclair and Isabella. Pintoff seems to be holding out on the reader here. I wish she had more confidence in her characters and would flesh them out. It would only strengthen my interest in them and their work.