GRIP OF DEATH
By Len Levinson
Rough Edge Press
Set in New York City in the turbulent year after the start of the Civil War, Levinson’s story revolves around a group of Southeners known as the Chivalry who hatch a plot to cripple the North’s economic strength. Their goal, to murder the wealthiest New York financiers and frighten off others from supporting Lincoln’s campaign.
Fate intervenes when Deputy Chief of Detectives, Timothy
Flanagan, hires two new detectives on the same day. The first of these is Derek
Lancaster, an intelligent, well-to-do blue blood whose patriotic duty resulted
in his being wounded at the Battle of Bull Run. Now discharged, he wants to
join the Secret Service and continue his fight to abolish slavery. Sadly he’s
rejected for lack of investigative experience and thus turns to the City
Detective Department. Flanagan’s second recruit is a lovely young lady named
Catherine Satterfield, formerly of South
Carolina. Rebelling against her stubborn father, Catherine
had been sent to a girls’ school in London
just prior to the war. There she falls in love with the theater and acting. Upon
her return to the states, she hopes to find work as an actor but instead,
crosses path with the veteran copper.
Seeing the potential in both Lancaster and Satterfield,
Flanagan has them team up and begin the investigation of the murdered business
man, Amos Symington. From that point on, Levinson’s story takes on a life of
its own. Brilliant at capturing both he wonder and squalor of New York at the time, his setting is
historically authentic and it breathes added weight to the challenges Lancaster
and Satterfield must overcome to solve the mystery. Levinson skillfully weaves
his fictional players with historical characters such as Horace Greely, John
Wilkes Booth and a hack driver named Bonney, whose son will one day become a
legend out west.
Like most veteran pulp scribes, Levinson economy of words is so efficient. He paints pictures fast as easy, as the drama unfolds. From the sweet prostitute caught up in conspiracy beyond her comprehension to the runaway slave trying to find his own place in a frightening new America. They crisscross the stage propelling the plot ever forward to a truly satisfying, marvelous finale. “Grip of Death” is both a thriller and history lesson in one, with Levinson’s cold hard prose. One should never attempt to change history as it is a folly reserved only fools and politicians.