Gramercy Park (St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2002, 357 pages, by Paula Cohen)
This first time novel is a Cinderella story set in New York’s Gramercy Park, which is located on the lower side of Manhattan Island, but north of Greenwich Village. It is the 1890s. Carriages are horse drawn and the old rich live in huge mansions, some overlooking the East River.
The story begins with the death of Henry Ogden Slade, a wealthy financier, who is survived by Clara Alder, his ward. Clara believes she will be well taken care of in Henry’s will but is shocked to learn that he left here destitute. As a result Clara remains in the house where she lived for so many years with Henry. Then one day a famous opera singer, Mario, from Italy arrives on a concert tour and considers buying the house. This sets off a chain of events involving Mario, Clara, Henry’s lawyer and host of others that leads the reader through a complex detective story about Clara’s past, murder, love and well… more.
This is a terrific read for those willing to let yourself be taken away to another time and place. Paula does an excellent job of describing the attitudes of the people who make up New York at the end of the 19th century. Attitudes, appearances, right and wrong figure prominently in this story. I especially like Paula’s use of period dialogue, which helps keep the reader focused on the time, place and the motivations of the characters. Everyone speaks formally, but the dialogue is not hard to follow.
The author is a Victorian Era and opera aficionado who lives in New York. Fortunately she does not go overboard explaining opera, but some readers may be puzzled by her use of Italian phrases. Nonetheless they do not detract from the novel and indeed add a bit of spice to Mario, the prince.
This is one of those books where you want to sit on the sofa with a fire going and just relax and let you mind escape for a while. The book is divided into three sections named after the three main characters. It is further subdivided into chapters. The book’s length is about right length with no character’s story left hanging. I highly recommend this book for a peek at what life must have been like back then and because it is a good old fashioned story told well.