The Letter Writer

The Letter Writer

Book - 2016
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"February 1942: Woodrow Cain arrives in New York City from a small North Carolina town having left behind a wife (who'd abandoned him), a daughter, and a career as a police officer marred by questions about his possible complicity in his partner's murder. A job in the NYPD gives him what he hopes will be a new beginning, and it's on the job that he meets a man called Danzinger. Dressed like a "strange old mystic," Danzinger nonetheless has the manners of a man of means and education and speaks five languages. And he can help Cain identify the body just found floating in the Hudson River. But who exactly is Danzinger? A writer of letters for illiterate immigrants on Manhattan's Lower East Side, he has seemingly boundless knowledge of the city and its denizens. And he seems to know much more than he's telling Cain: not just about the identity of the dead man, but about the how and why of his death, and how it puts Cain--and perhaps his daughter and the woman he's fallen in love with--in harm's way. But even Danzinger can't see that the more he and Cain investigate, the nearer they are to the center of a web of corruption, abject cynicism, and possibly traitorous activities from which they may never be able to extricate themselves"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9781101875063
Branch Call Number: FICTION Fes
Description: 371 pages ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

Brand-new NYC policeman Woodrow Cain suspects that the man called Danziger does more than write letters for illiterate immigrants on the Lower East Side.

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Aug 18, 2020

In his afterword, Dan Fesperman reveals the inspiration for his book: a passage from a 1932 book called "The Real New York" by Helen Worden, describing a letter writer who "is wise and knows much". A basis in reality — a time, a place and the people who lived, struggled and died there — that's the ingredient that makes this somewhat noir novel work so well. Merging a work of fiction seamlessly into a real historical setting, incorporating a large cast of real people and events, is a tricky undertaking and Festerman pulls it off quite well.
The driving force of this novel stems from the depth and impact of corruption that pervaded NYC in that era, especially the unholy alliance of the authorities (both federal and municipal) with the prevailing criminal organizations. The aura of corruption makes for compelling reading while also leaving me with a degree of disquiet. One wonders if it's possible (in 1942 or today) for police forces to avoid being infected and sidetracked by the powerful forces of big money, big crime and political chicanery.
Fesperman chose to tell his story from the perspectives of two protagonists: the letter writer Danziger in first person and the misplaced, damaged cop Woodrow Cain in third person. Cain arrives on the scene and is instantly swept into an avalanche of local mayhem touched off by the suspicious burning of the troop ship "Normandie" at the docks. Telling the story in this split fashion offers depth of perception at the risk of leaving both protagonists less than fully drawn. I felt that in doing so, Fesperman left Cain less concrete than I would have liked, notably in his relationship with his 12-year-old daughter. There is so much drama going on in Cain's life, threatened by hostile forces on all sides, that the kid gets short shrift in the telling.
The amusing yarns of Damon Runyon, sending up the colorful characters of the 1930s New York underworld of thieves, gamblers and gun molls make for fun reading; Frank Loesser and Joe Mankiewicz turned them into great entertainment in "Guys and Dolls". But Runyon's tales were based upon a much darker reality of murder, misery and malfeasance. Fesperman has managed to invoke Runyon while dwelling in the realities of the time and using all of that as the setting for his own crime story.

May 30, 2019

This was a somewhat random pick, simply based on the short blurb description. It has turned out to be much more 'connected' than I ever imagined to current events & historical facts in the build up to WWII. I tried to not race ahead or read the end comments first.

First off Festerman comments on landmarks of NY City (a place I've never been nor care to visit.) Bellevue Hospital and the morgue tie in so nicely to a fascinating book by David Oshinsky, one I have heard several times because it's so packed with amazing facts. A highly recommend read or audio with no dull moments.

Secondly it ties so nicely to the present consternations of the so-called 'America First' theme just like the cozy up to Hitler by Charles Lindbergh and Joseph P Kennedy, the highly regarded 'America Patriots'. Reference for the very real associations to the Silver Shirts & America First societies. It's a wonder the US is not required to speak another language, salute a certain nasty figure & wipe out all people who only look like the founding fathers. Yes, a read that gives food for thought.

Sep 24, 2016

Dan Fesperman accomplished a simple plot with this novel. I like the pace of his writing ... nor fast or slow. I also like that way the he combined true events with fiction.


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