Dizzy City

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Former Little, Brown sales rep Nicholas Griffin has made historical fiction his literary playground in novels such as The Requiem Shark, and Dizzy City continues the author’s quest to tease out entertaining stories set against not-so-current events. This time around, 1916 Manhattan proves especially fertile ground, what with the United States still abstaining from World War I, the rise of Tin Pan Alley and the tumult of a city recovering from decades of near-lawlessness.

This is the promised land sought out by young Englishman Ben Cramb, an actor and occasional flim-flammer whose horrific experiences on the front lines inspire him to sneak onto a steamship leaving for New York. Once there, Ben, like most immigrants, must survive on wits and hard labor. But a chance encounter with a mysterious, Svengali-like character named Julius McAteer introduces him to more advanced levels of bunco—and sets into motion the criminal scam that drives Dizzy City’s rapid plot.

As Griffin casually drops references to a bygone Manhattan, Ben and Julius immerse themselves in a complicated con involving songwriting scholarship, several rich men and the lovely Katherine Howells, a determined young woman who “wanted more than anything…her own world, free of the strings of men.” Griffin writes with authority on his chosen subjects, and even though he employs enough point-of-view shifts to give an unintended meaning to his book’s title, the effect works, raising the question: Who is conning, and who is being conned? This conundrum seems most applicable to Ben. As much as he tries to reinvent himself, his double-crossing ways put him back in touch with his repressed war experiences. For him, the American dream turns nightmarish.

By Nicholas Griffin.
Steerforth, $24.95.