The Blackest Bird by Joel RoseThe Blackest Bird by Joel Rose

The Blackest Bird

byJoel Rose

Paperback | March 11, 2008

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New York, the sweltering summer of 1841: Mary Rogers, a beautiful counter girl at a popular Manhattan tobacco shop, is found brutally murdered in the Hudson River. John Colt, scion of the firearm fortune, beats his publisher to death with a hatchet. And young Irish gang leader Tommy Coleman is accused of killing his daughter, his wife, and his wife's former lover. Charged with solving it all is High Constable Jacob Hays, the city's first detective. Capping a long and distinguished career, Hays's investigation will involve gang wars, grave robbers, and clues hidden in poems by that master of dark tales, Edgar Allan Poe.

With a multilayered plot and rich, terse prose, The Blackest Bird is both a gripping mystery and a convincing portrait of the New York underworld in its early days. At its heart is Hays' unlikely connection with Poe, who like many other men was in love with Mary Rogers. In its deeply textured world, full of bloodshed and duplicity, only a few innocent relationships — such as Hays' tender bond with his daughter — provide any comfort and hope.

From the Hardcover edition.
Joel Rose founded the literary magazine Between C&D. His previous books include Kill the Poor, Kill Kill Faster Faster, and the urban historical New York Sawed in Half. He lives in New York City.From the Hardcover edition.
Title:The Blackest BirdFormat:PaperbackDimensions:480 pages, 9.04 × 5.99 × 1.05 inPublished:March 11, 2008Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385662408

ISBN - 13:9780385662406

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Read from the Book

1July 26, 1841,MidnightMake no mistake, the task at hand affects him deeply. He is not entirely ­cold-­blooded after all. Still he proceeds, tearing long strips from the hem of her dress, tying the white lengths around her waist and neck, fashioning a crude makeshift handle by which to carry her.As he works he cannot bring himself to look her straight in the face, can hardly bring himself to look at her at all.The wooded path is clear, although overgrown to each side with grabbing brambles and dense vegetation. Not far off, the river laps, its briny tang strong in his nostrils.Across the expanse of water, he can just make out the lights of the city gleaming through the rising mist.Somewhere in the current, he thinks he hears the dip of oars.Overhead, there is no moon visible, but many stars, bright through the high canopy of trees.The deed is done.A feeling of sadness and longing comes over him that is not akin to pain, but resembles sorrow only.He wrestles with the dead weight of her, leaving the body by the riverside while he scours the bank looking for stones and rocks of a size large enough to weigh her down.His thoughts go to her. What have I done?“Oh, Mary,” he murmurs to himself, may even have spoken her name out loud. “Oh, Mary.”2Old HaysHis name is Jacob Hays. But in the popular penny prints, the New York Evening Herald, the Sun, the Tribune, the Mercury, throughout the city, high constable of the metropolis, he has come to be known as Old Hays. Sixty-­nine years of age, he has stood his post for nearly forty years, having first been appointed head of the force in 1802 by Mayor ­Livingston.As a young man of the Watch, Jacob Hays had made his reputation at the ­bull-­baiting ring atop Bayard’s Mount, where he garnered renown for wading into the midst of throngs of warring, drunken brawlers. Equipped solely with his long ash constable’s staff, he would proceed from one to another, knocking the hat off the most vituperative, then, when said individual went to retrieve his aggrieved topper, sending him flying with a swift kick to the rump, effectively rendering his participation harmless. In this way, proceeding from cove to sport to magsman and back again, he had put an end to many a ­free-­for-­all, many a melee. Old Hays is known for being an exemplary and honest man, one of moral and religious character. His keen, ­deep-­set brown eyes lend intelligence to a stolid face, mahogany complexion, and beetle brow. The rigid set of jaw and mouth, the large ears alive with tufts of coarse hair resembling nothing less than stiff gray antennae, these afford him an air of calculated study, the demeanor of one ­all-­seeing.A steadfast, inflexible, inexorably truculent type, considered a terror to all evildoers, Old Hays believes he can distinguish the criminal physiognomy from the physiognomy of the honest man. He has made a lifetime study of the science, exploring fully the face–or countenance–as index to character. Neither man nor woman passed him on the street he did not study, categorize, remember. He was the constabulary’s first shadow, what had recently come to be called in the city “detective.”Among numerous other crime techniques, he is given credit for being the first to tail a suspect, in addition to development of the ­strong-­arm tactic of interrogation best known as the third degree. He had come on board the force as a youth in the lowliest of roles, when the Watch boasted no formal organization, comprised almost exclusively of a small corps of roundsmen and an equally small phalanx of “leatherheads,” glorified night watchmen, their sobriquet derived from their only uniform, a leather fireman’s helmet favored by the men, front brim cut away, and shellacked until the leather was hard as iron.Earlier that Tuesday morning, having just sat down to his newly accustomed cup of coffee, what he called “Javanese,” prepared, at her insistence, by his daughter, Mary Olga, in the Hays family longtime residence, a modest red brick home on Lispenard Street, Old Hays had received an urgent message, delivered by the Negro sextant of the Scotch Presbyterian church on Grand Street, the same Scots church where his family had worshipped for many years, his wife before she died, his sons before they died, where he and his daughter still worshipped. The note, signed by the reverend doctor himself, urged Old Hays’ immediate presence, saying that overnight, thieves had stolen the copper sheathing directly off the church steeple and somehow gotten away with it, pleading for him to appear in person with utmost dispatch, which he had done, although to no avail. The copper was long gone, and a more thorough investigation of the metal yards and smithies would have to be undertaken and carried out by someone younger and more spry than he.The reverend doctor made point to mention the youth bands, saying they had been seen around the church of late. He especially named Tommy Coleman and his gang of Forty Little Thieves, who had a clubhouse around the corner and up the block from the church on Prince Street, and Hays did promise he would ferret the laddie out and have a word with him. With not much more discussion, he then called to his longtime driver, Balboa, an elderly Negro dressed elegantly in bottle green waistcoat and yellow cravat, waiting for him at the kerb. With Balboa’s hand up he climbed back into his carriage, a closed black barouche, and within minutes was standing in his office at the Tombs, in front of the barred window, in a slip of noonday sunlight. Sergeant McArdel of the Night Watch, having entered the small room from the corridor, now stood in the doorway behind him, clearing his throat.“What is it, Sergeant?” Hays inquired, turning to his ­ham-­faced, ­ginger-­headed aide. “A gentleman has been here to see you, sir,” McArdel said.From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

“The excitement of chasing grave robbers, life on death row in the Tombs, and the filth and sickness of the city immerse this novel in an atmosphere of uncertainty and change. The famous names and places it features bring intrigue and dark passions to play with a familiar history and literature. A good mystery.” --Library Journal“The swagger of this gang-riddled city is ably drawn, and the fast-paced narrative is dense with clues, making the deciphering exhilarating. But this is also an engaging window onto the petty pilfering and brutal bloodshed of a young New York.” --Telegraph“It’s almost as if the late Edward Gorey wrote something like E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime; the kind of thing that could be a bestseller or big-budget movie.” —Toronto Star“Joel Rose (and High Constable Hays) put Poe himself into the life and death of Mary Rogers, and it all works beautifully. . . . Rose has exhaustively researched his time and place, and his mid-century New York is a wonderfully bawdy, earthy place full of fascinating characters. The plot weaves a lot, blending real history, Rose’s fiction and Poe’s fiction. . . . I never tired of it.” — Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail“Rose claims to have spent 17 years working on this novel, and it shows. Meticulously researched, it successfully captures the optimism as well as the murky atmosphere of the period. Whether it is in the buzzing newspaper offices of the New York Herald, the dank cells of the Tombs prison, or the narrow alleyways of Five Points in lower Manhattan where the infamous gangs of New York roamed, Rose's narrative feels authentic. The city in all of its frenzy, squalour and corruption of the era comes to life in his pages.” -- Winnipeg Free Press “The swagger of this gang-riddled city is ably drawn, and the fast-paced narrative is dense with clues, making the deciphering exhilarating. But this is also an engaging window onto the petty pilfering and brutal bloodshed of a young New York.” —The Telegraph“Irresistibly seductive…. Murder mystery, historical novel, portal to another time; The Blackest Bird is a masterpiece.” —Anthony Bourdain“Rose has caught the wild spirit of Poe’s New York with terrific panache. It is a vivid picture of the city . . . teeming with big, brash characters and driven by a relentlessly entertaining narrative.”—Patrick McGrathFrom the Hardcover edition.