What people talk about when they talk about the way New York City used to be: the dark, graffitied alleys you absolutely never went down, the overwhelming crime, the grit and the grime. Rob Hart is the kind of guy who remembers this NYC fondly, and he memorializes it in his debut, New Yorked, a noir murder mystery about part-time PI Ash McKenna, who has just been implicated for the murder of his girlfriend.
Hart takes us on a tour of his NYC through books, film and art.
You could live your entire life in New York City—beginning to end, without ever leaving—and never catch the full breadth of this place. It’s unknowable, moving at the speed of light, shifting under your feet. And because of that, everyone’s viewing angle will always be entirely and wholly unique to them.
My experience will never be your experience.
There are things we can share. Places we love to eat. Those secret spots it seems like the hordes haven’t yet discovered and stripped bare. That swell of pride at making it another month in a full-contact economy, where so many prone bodies are being carted off the field.
Another thing we can share is art. The books and films and music that bottle up the spirit and essence of New York.
These are my favorite pieces of art featuring New York, as an inspiration, or a backdrop, or a feeling. The things that inspired me to give it a go and try to capture my experience of this impossible city in New Yorked.
In the City of Shy Hunters by Tom Spanbauer
This novel by Tom Spanbauer, published in 2001, is the best book ever written about New York City. Full stop. Will Parker, a shy boy from Idaho, moves to the city during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. He falls in love with a six-foot-five African-American drag queen and performance artist named Rose, and watches as the city thrashes and convulses around him.
This is a portrait of a city that’s gone. The Bad Old Days as literary fairy tale. It cuts to the charcoal heart of New York with more grace and precision than anything else I’ve ever read.
The Warriors, directed by Walter Hill
Directed by Walter Hill and released in 1979, this movie is a fever-dream interpretation of New York City’s gang culture. The Boppers in their shiny purple vests, the Baseball Furies in their pinstripe uniforms and mime makeup.
This movie (based on the 1965 novel by Sol Yurick) took the most terrifying thing about the New York City of that era—roving bands of gangs and criminals behind the sky-high crime rate—and moved it into comic book territory. Something goofy and colorful that plays out like a Greek myth.
Here Is New York by E.B. White
It’s stunning that this slim volume, a love letter to the Big Apple written by E.B. White and published in 1949, feels so modern. It could have been written yesterday. And at less than 60 pages, it’s the perfect keepsake or gift—a blazing-fast read worth revisiting for the ensuing well of nostalgia.
White’s introduction so perfectly acknowledges how futile it is to write about this town, noting that to “bring New York down to date, a man would have to be published with the speed of light… it is the reader’s, not the author’s, duty to bring New York down to date; and I trust it will prove less a duty than a pleasure.”
Death Wish (film AND book)
The 1974 film Death Wish is the polar opposite of The Warriors. Gone are the goofy armies of street gangs, replaced by a staunch liberal twisted into a ruthless vigilante by a brutal attack on his wife and daughter. As the body count builds you’re brought to the conclusion that violence is the only answer.
The book it was based on, written by Brian Garfield and published in 1972, takes a different path—same liberal character whose wife and daughter are attacked, but his path to vigilantism results in a far more thoughtful examination of justice (and the movie’s gleeful violence so upset Garfield that he wrote Death Sentence as penance).
Girl Walk // All Day
This 70-minute music video, directed by Jacob Krupnick and released in 2011, turns New York into a dance stage. From the Staten Island Ferry to the Apollo Theater, and all points in between, three dancers—the Girl, the Creep, and the Gentleman—slink through the streets and inspire the denizens of New York to dance.
The video is scored to the music of Gregg Gillis, a.k.a. Girl Talk, a DJ known for mashups (you will find yourself awed at how well hip-hop group UGK’s song “One Day” matches up with “Imagine” by The Beatles). It’s New York through and through—a melting pot of musical styles, a guerilla production (they were tossed out of Yankee Stadium for filming a sequence during a game), and, most importantly, a pure explosion of joy that shows the city in it’s best light: As a hub for creative expression.
The art of Stephen Wiltshire
Stephen Wiltshire is a British architectural artist with an incredible gift—he can look at something once, and then produce an intricate, detailed portrait of the subject. He’s best known for cityscapes, and has rendered cities like London, Tokyo, and, of course, New York, in minute detail. This, after only partaking in a brief helicopter ride.
New York is a grand city. No one needs to be convinced of that. That Wiltshire took something so big and produced such an accurate portrait is remarkable. And he didn’t just capture the buildings. You can feel the energy—the life pulsating under the lines. Seeing the city through his eyes is like seeing it for the first time.
Shortbus, directed by John Cameron Mitchell
This 2006 film, written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell, is not for the prudish. The movie explores the lives of several people orbiting an underground artistic/sexual salon. The sex scenes, both straight and gay, are not simulated. If that doesn’t scare you, you’ll find a thoughtful examination on sex and relationships. The story culminates in a citywide blackout that demonstrates that great, overlooked quality of New Yorkers: Our ability to come together in times of crisis.
This is the New York as it exists for non-rich, non-fantasy people. And the movie also features a stellar performance (and musical number) by Justin Vivian Bond, who served as the inspiration for Ginny Tonic, the drag queen crime lord in New Yorked.
Gogol Bordello’s 2005 album Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike sounds like the beating heart of New York City. It’s a glorious mix of styles that occasionally drops into other languages but never strays from the familiar punk rock energy that once thrived on the Lower East Side.
It’s loud and fun and sharp and scrappy. It’s a stroll through the city set to music. Favorites include “Avenue B” and “Oh No,” the latter featuring—like Shortbus—New Yorkers uniting during a blackout. Though, listen to “Start Wearing Purple” and discover one of the most fun songs you’ll ever hear in your life.
Rob Hart is the author of New Yorked, now available from Polis Books. You can find him on Twitter at @robwhart and online at www.robwhart.com.
Discover more great new mysteries and thrillers during Private Eye July.
No question, the most popular thriller so far this year is Paula Hawkins’ slow-burning psychological thriller, The Girl on the Train. So you’ve ridden the train, you’ve unearthed all those lies and secrets, but what do you read next? The editors of BookPage have a few ideas.
The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Swanson (The Girl with a Clock for a Heart) takes readers to greater Hitchcockian levels with this twisty psychological thriller, which will appeal to readers who loved the way Hawkins jumped from one narrator to another, slowly peeling back everyone’s layers to reveal their true motivations. Read our review.
Blackout by Sarah Hepola
“[B]lacking out wasn’t simply a matter of forgetting what had happened,” Hawkins writes, “but having no memories to forget in the first place.” If you found this line from The Girl on the Train as fascinating as the mystery itself, you’ll love diving into Hepola’s memoir. Read our review.
Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Essbaum’s mesmerizing novel finds a desperate housewife breaking out of her domestic passivity through a series of bad decisions and dangerous liasons. It will hit the spot for readers who couldn’t get enough of Megan, the impulsive wife whose disappearance launches Hawkins’ novel. Read our review.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
No one does suburban conflict quite like Moriarty, author of such page-turners as The Husband’s Secret and What Alice Forgot. The unraveling connections between the three central women are some of the strongest elements in Hawkins’ novel, and the three moms here juggle rivalries and plenty of juicy secrets. Read our review.
The Good House by Ann Leary
The townie protagonist of Leary’s 2013 novel loves a bottle of wine as much as Hawkins’ Rachel, and her blackouts render her just as unreliable. Her attempts to protect her reputation in a small, gossipy New England seaside town make for a fun, dark read, with a dash of wicked humor for balance. Read our review.
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
Watson’s spectacular 2011 debut includes many of the finest elements of The Girl on the Train—loss of memory, an incident that cannot be recalled, paranoia that seeps from the page to infect the reader, husbands who seem to know more than they let on. At the risk of a spoiler, we’ll say no more! Read our review.
It’s Private Eye July at BookPage! All month long, we’re celebrating the sinister side of fiction with the year’s best mysteries and thrillers. Look for the Private Eye July magnifying glass for a daily dose of murder, espionage and all those creepy neighbors with even creepier secrets.
Brad Meltzer is known for many things, from his popular American political thrillers to his comic books to his History Channel TV series to his efforts to promote literacy in Florida. But here at BookPage, Brad is known for writing the warmest emails of all time. And so it comes as no surprise that Brad has some really great fans, as he shares below.
I’ve never told this story. And I promise this is true.
It was over a decade ago, at the start of my career. I can’t remember what book it was for. I think Dead Even or The First Counsel, but I’m pretty sure it was my first trip to Dallas. I was at a local Barnes & Noble and since I was new at this, I made sure to get to the event early. Really early, like, so early, no one else should be there unless we’re related.
So I was surprised to see this group of four or five young men and women in their late 20s, which was about my age at the time. According to the store manager, they’d driven all the way from Oklahoma.
I couldn’t believe it. From Oklahoma . . . all the way to Texas?! With my impaired sense of geography, that had to be like, a 16 hour drive (it was actually five). But still. No one had ever driven five hours to see me sign books before. You don’t forget when someone does that.
By 7:30 or so, the signing begins. People ask questions . . . I pretend I’m funny . . . and then the actual book signing starts. At the end of the line, I notice the folks from Oklahoma. Of course they’re waiting till the end. Whoever’s at the end gets the most time with the author.
Some more time goes by. The signing slowly moves forward, and every few minutes, I keep looking up at the Oklahomans. Even from where I’m sitting, they just seem . . . nice.
Eventually, they get to the front of the line and I sign their books. It’s late now, so I ask them where they’re staying in town. They look at each other and sheepishly admit that they have to drive back tonight. As someone who grew up without much money, I get it instantly: They don’t have the cash to pay for a hotel room (and yet here they are paying full price for a hardback book). They took their entire day to come and meet me.
Now let me be clear: What I was about to do, I’d never done before. I’ve only done it two other times since. But my gut told me these were nice people. And I trust my gut. So I said, “You’re not getting back in the car and just driving for another five hours. I’m taking you all out to dinner first.”
Their reaction alone was worth it.
But here’s the part I love: As we’re all leaving the bookstore together and heading for the restaurant next door, I spot one of the sales reps from my publisher lurking in the corner, by the door.
“What’re you doing here?” I ask, genuinely surprised.
“The publisher told me to come keep an eye on you,” she joked. Noticing the small crowd, she added, “Where you headed?”
“I’m just taking these readers to dinner.”
She almost choked right there. “Wait,” she told me. “You’re taking complete strangers—who you don’t know—to dinner?” I think she gave me some warning about how strangers can potentially chop you up into little pieces. Maybe she flipped through a copy of Stephen King’s Misery. But eventually, she was like, “I gotta see this.”
Looking back, she was just protecting her author from doing something stupid. But there’s nothing stupid about being a nice person. In the end, we all went to dinner together: me, the sales rep and my new pals from Oklahoma (you know who you are).
And the best part? Since the sales rep came along, she surprised us all by picking up the check. So you know what the real lesson is? Kindness will always be rewarded. Also, dinner’s always better when the publisher pays.
On June 16th, my new book tour started in NY. Don’t think I don’t know that at each event, the publisher stills spies on me from the corner.
See you on tour.
The President's Shadow is the newest in Meltzer's Culper Ring series, following The Inner Circle and The Fifth Assassin. Beecher White is a member of the Culper Ring, a centuries-old secret society founded by Washington and charged with protecting the President. When an arm is found buried in the White House garden, Beecher finds himself hunting down national secrets he never could have expected.
Author photo credit Andy Ryan.
Discover more great new mysteries and thrillers during Private Eye July.
It's Private Eye July at BookPage, a month-long celebration of the year's best mysteries and thrillers (so far!). Look for the Private Eye July magnifying glass, or join in on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with #PrivateEyeJuly.
Don't know what to read while celebrating with us this month? We've got you covered with the ultimate 2015 Private Eye July reading guide.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
It seems Hawkins' debut is everywhere this year, with its unreliable characters, hidden motives and juicy, deadly suburban drama. Everybody's doing it. C'mon—you know you want to. (Already read it? Stay tuned for our guide for what to read next, coming soon!) Read our interview with Hawkins.
Invasion of Privacy by Christopher Reich
The Big Brother conspiracy in Reich's new cyber-thriller is wildly entertaining. We'll let you decide just how far-fetched it is. Just don't blame us if you start eyeing your iPhone with suspicion. Read our interview with Reich.
The Stranger by Harlan Coben
Think your Facebook privacy measures are strict enough? Are you sure? Paranoid readers will especially enjoy Coben's latest thriller full of blackmail and unraveling secrets. Read our review of The Stranger.
The Swede by Robert Karjel
Karjel's English-language debut introduces Ernst Grip, a Swedish cop who's been called in to determine whether or not a suspected terrorist is Swedish. (One more for the road: Swedish.) Read our review of The Swede.
The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel
And now to Denmark, for the latest from the "Queen of Crime" and her returning detective, Louise Rick. This time, Louise is investigating the death of a woman—who had apparently died 30 years before, along with her twin. Read our review of The Forgotten Girls.
The Mask by Taylor Stevens
The thrillers of Vanessa Michael Munroe are wham-bam-thankya-ma'am action, and this is one of the best so far. Read our review of The Mask.
Fear the Darkness by Becky Masterman
Former FBI agent Brigid Quinn is trying to build a nice little life after Rage Against the Dying. But then a few mysterious deaths lead to a much bigger problem. Read our review of Fear the Darkness.
Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight
Following her 2013 best-selling debut, Reconstructing Amelia, McCreight dazzles with a literary mystery, after the discovery of the body of a newborn girl is found in an idyllic New Jersey town. Read our review of Where They Found Her.
The Bones of You by Debbie Howells
Debut author Howells explores a quiet English village following the brutal murder of an 18-year-old girl. This one will especially appeal to fans of The Lovely Bones. Read our review of The Bones of You.
White Crocodile by K.T. Medina
Real-life trauma in Cambodian minefields serves as the backdrop for this truly harrowing story of a woman's investigation into her abusive ex-husband's death. Go Behind the Book with Medina, and read our review.
The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill
Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler is poised to take on the most formidable task of his career: the infiltration of a pedophile ring in his hometown of Lafferton, England. Hill's latest is very dark and absolutely unforgettable. Read our review of The Soul of Discretion.
The Liar by Nora Roberts
After her husband's death, Shelby returns home to Rendezvous Ridge, Tennessee, hoping to rebuild her life—and to get something started with newcomer Griff Lott. But Shelby's husband has left behind a dangerous trail. Read our review of The Liar.
Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick
Things get real hot in this Victorian-era romance as businesswoman Ursula Kern and archaeologist and adventurer Slater Roxton team up to solve a murder. Read our review of Garden of Lies.
The Whites by Richard Price, writing as Harry Brandt
Price's take on the classic police procedural crime novel is set in his signature stark, gritty urban landscape, filled with fully imagined characters with pasts and passions that resonate in the present. Moral ambiguities are our favorite ambiguities. Read our review of The Whites.
Rock with Wings by Anne Hillerman
With Spider Woman's Daughter, Hillerman picked up where her father, Tony, left off. With the second in her series, policewoman Bernadette Manuelito and her husband, Chee, investigate two rather unusual cases. Read our review of Rock with Wings.
All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer
Two former lovers (and ex-CIA agents) meet for dinner—a tame start to what becomes an urgent unraveling of secrets. A classic noir spy story for the modern age, this may be Steinhauer's best novel to date. Read our review of All the Old Knives.
Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews
The second espionage thriller from former CIA agent Mathews is an epic international race against time for Russian agent Dominika Egorova and CIA's Nate Nash. Read our review of Palace of Treason.
Toured to Death by Hy Conrad
It starts as all fun and sun for the Amy’s Travel group as they traipse around Monte Carlo, trying to solve a fictional murder mystery—like Clue on vacation. But it appears their fictional murder is a little bit too real. Read our review of Toured to Death.
Pride v. Prejudice by Joan Hess
The 20th installment in Hess' Claire Malloy series finds the unstoppable semi-retired bookstore owner in the middle of a murder mystery—plus a whole bunch of other (entertaining) chaos. Read our review of Pride v. Prejudice.
The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich
Authors Amy Hempel and Jill Ciment team up as A.J. Rich to tell a smart, twisty novel of psychological suspense about a woman who discovers her (former) fiance has quite a secret life. Read our review of The Hand That Feeds You.
Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline
Scottoline takes readers into the mind of a dangerous sociopath, as a deranged patient turns a psychiatrist’s life into the stuff of nightmares. Read our review of Every Fifteen Minutes.
Finders Keepers by Stephen King
King's sequel to his 2014 bestseller Mr. Mercedes explores the nature of obsessions—and you'll definitely be obsessed. Read our review of Finders Keepers.
What are you reading during Private Eye July? Check out all of our mystery and thriller coverage for even more great reading.
It’s Private Eye July at BookPage! All month long, we’re celebrating the sinister side of fiction with the year’s best mysteries and thrillers. Look for the Private Eye July magnifying glass or the hashtag #PrivateEyeJuly for a daily dose of murder, espionage and all those creepy neighbors with even creepier secrets.
Just a few things to look forward to this month:
Be sure to check out all of this year's coverage of mysteries and thrillers, and check back in for new goodies all month long.
Rick Hoffman has fallen on hard times—he's lost his fiancée and his job, and his only option is to move into his parents' decrepit old home. But then he finds a huge pile of cash hidden in the walls of the house. His elderly father, Leonard, is still alive, but he's in a nursing home and unable to communicate, so no help there. Rick was formerly an investigative journalist, so the mystery of the cash and how it got there—and what his father knows about it—gets his full attention.
The newest from Finder is an absolute page-turner, a fast and entertaining read.
"Let's see your hands, Dad." He took hold of Len's left hand and began to clip his father's thick grooved nails, and Brenda drifted out of the room.
Rick clipped slowly. His father held out each hand, one at a time. It felt oddly intimate. It was like taking care of a small child. He thought about how everything sooner or later comes back around. He realized with a jolt that his eyes had teared up.
He stopped clipping. "Jeff and I were doing some exploratory demolition," he said quietly, "and we opened up the wall next to your study, at the back of the closet." Len's mouth was frozen in that haughty expression, but his watery eyes seemed anxious. They followed Rick's. "There was money back there. A huge amount of money. Millions of dollars. How did it get there, any idea?" Rick swallowed, waited. "Is it yours?"
Len's restless eyes came to a stop, looked directly into Rick's.
The old man's eyes bore into his. Then he began to blink rapidly, three or four times. Nervously, maybe.
What are you reading?
It seems the reading world can't get enough of these psychological thrillers starring deceptive, unreliable female characters. Knight plays with our allegiances in this juicy domestic noir, already in the works to become a film with 20th Century Fox. Her debut tells the story of Catherine, a successful documentary filmmaker who receives a manuscript that describes in excruciating detail a day from her life she has tried so hard to forget. And at the end of the manuscript, Catherine's character dies. In alternating chapters, readers meet Stephen Brigstocke, who knows Catherine's secret all too well.
She tries to dislodge it with thoughts of the previous evening, before she picked up the book. The contentment of settling into their new home: of wine and supper; curling up on the sofa; dozing in front of the TV and then she and Robert melting into bed. A quiet happiness she had taken for granted: but it is too quiet to bring her comfort. She cannot sleep so she gets out of bed and goes downstairs.
They still have a downstairs, just about. A maisonette, not a house anymore. They moved from the house three weeks ago. Two bedrooms now, not four. Two bedrooms are a better fit for her and Robert. One for them. One spare. They've gone for open plan too. No doors. They don't need to shut doors now Nicholas has left. She turns on the kitchen light and takes a glass from the cupboard and fills it. No tap. Cool water on command from the new fridge. It's more like a wardrobe than a fridge. Dread slicks her palms with sweat. She is hot, almost feverish, and is thankful for the coolness of the newly laid limestone floor. The water helps a little. As she gulps it down she looks out of the vast glass windows running along the back of this new, alien home. Only black out there. Nothing to see. She hasn't got round to blinds yet. She is exposed. Looked at. They can see her, but she can't see them.
What are you reading today?
Debut novelist Catie Disabato "picks up" where her mentor left off in this faux-journalistic novel about two disappearances, one a Lady Gaga-esque pop star and the other music journalist Cait Taer. Multilayered doesn't begin to describe this tale packed with footnotes, commentary from Disabato, explorations into philosophy and history and the investigation itself, which includes secret notebooks, interviews and more. As complicated as all this sounds, Disabato is a clever guide and will charm readers hoping for something wholly original.
After Molly disappeared, a few kooks came out of the woodwork to offer elaborate explanations. A popular Illuminati conspiracy theory website called The Vigilant Citizen weighed in with their particular brand of insanity. On August 12, 2009, the website published a long article called "Molly Metropolis: An Illuminati Puppet," which claimed Molly was a mind-controlled puppet and every time she posed for a picture with her hair over her eye (which, admittedly, happend a lot in her early press photos and the music videos for her Cause Célèbrety singles) she was making herself into the symbol for the All-Seeing Eye. The Vigilant Citizen wrote: "Those who have passed the 101 of Illuminati symbolism know that the All-Seeing Eye is probablyits most recognizable symbol."
According to The Vigilant Citizen, Molly Metropolis disappeared because her "Delta" or "killer" programming had been activated and she completed her "final Illuminati opersation," then vanished to hide the evidence of her actions.* With the story, The Vigilant Citizen ran an early publicity photo with Molly dressed in a black t-shirt with a deep v-neck; she holds the back of her hand up to her left eye to reveal the tattoo of an eye inside a triangle Molly has on her palm. Needless to say, the police never investigated "Delta programming/evil Illuminati mission" as a possible explanation for her disappearance.
What are you reading today?
The 2015 Edgar Awards, honoring the best mysteries and thrillers and presented every year by the Mystery Writers of America, have been announced! Several of our favorites earned nods:
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (Scribner)
BEST FIRST NOVEL:
Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman (Norton)
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL:
The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani (Penguin)
BEST FACT CRIME:
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
by William J. Mann (Harper)
Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe by J.W. Ocker (Countryman)
Greenglass House by Kate Milford (Clarion)
BEST YOUNG ADULT:
The Art of Secrets by James Klise (Algonquin)
MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD:
The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey (Minotaur)
Did your favorites win?
British noir author Ted Lewis (1940-1982) is best known for his 1970 novel Jack’s Return Home, later renamed Carter and then adapted to film by Mike Hodges as Get Carter, starring Michael Caine. Lewis' nine crime novels were brutal, unflinching in their depiction of the British underworld and set a new standard for hardboiled British thrillers. His final novel, GBH, is now available in North America for the first time. It tells the story of George Fowler from two periods of time: the first in George's past, when he reigned over a hardcore porn empire; the second in the present, when George is in hiding in a small English seaside town for some mysterious reason.
At the time of GBH's original publication in 1980, Lewis' literary career was plummeting, so it's not surprising that his final novel would go overlooked by many readers. But GBH is often considered to be Lewis' masterpiece, even better than his famous Jack's Return Home.
Consider a man like me and love. A butcher loves. He slits an animal's throat and dismembers it and washes the blood from his skin and goes home and goes to bed with his wife and makes her cry out in passion. The man who made it necessary to rebuild Hiroshima loved and was loved back, and I don't necessarily mean the pilot or the man who activated the bomb doors. Whoever left the bomb at the Abercorn rooms would comfort his child if it came into the house with a grazed knee. Everyone loves. Everyone considers things, considers themselves. And I considered why it came to be that Jean should be the one, as opposed to anyone else. And like everyone else, I could compile a list of things that added up to my obsession, and as with everyone else, it just remained a list; the final total defied the simple process of addition.
Her husband couldn't have timed his return from California any better. A couple of days after we'd made love for the first time. For a week I didn't see her; I waited for her to get in touch with me. When she did, she suggested we have lunch together; it was going to be one of those meetings.
What are you reading?