I love nothing better than a mystery set in New York City. When I decided to try my hand at writing one, I didn't know whodunnit, but I knew this: it happened "only in New York, kids, only in New York", to steal New York Post gossip columnist Liz Smith's tag line.
I like my mysteries soft-boiled, therefore I'm particularly fond of Lawrence Block's "Burglar" series, which features Mrs Rhodenbarr's son Bernie, a book-loving burglar who's always breaking and entering and almost immediately tripping over a corpse and then being picked up by Detective Ray Kirschmann and dragged down to the station for questioning. Upon release he runs around the city doing more breaking and entering in order to clear his not-so-great name.
For me, Lawrence Block and his co-conspirator Donald Westlake are the masters of the New York City crime caper. But you've already read all the Burglar novels and the short stories too, haven't you? And you're read Donald Westlake's entire oeuvre as well. What haven't you read?
If you missed the 90s (does anyone miss the 90s?) then maybe you missed Marissa Piesman's Nina Fischmann mysteries, starring the Upper West Side, Jewish mothers, and real estate intrigue, back in the days when not just the 1% could afford housing in that neighborhood. According to this 1993 interview in the New York Times, Marissa wrote those during her subway commute!
Even by the time I moved to New York City, in the late 90s, mere mortals could still afford a one bedroom basement apartment in Greenwich Village. New York was long past its 1975 nadir of broke and broken down. The crack epidemic was over; the graffiti was mostly gone from the subway and the parks were relatively free of muggers and junkies.
Last week I found a series written around that time and around my neighborhood: Barbara Jaye Wilson's "Brenda Midnight" series. Brenda runs a hat shop in the East Village. Her novel "Accessory to Murder" is intelligent fun and totally spot on. Wilson knows her way around both the East and West Village and the Meatpacking district too. I don't know whether or not Barbara Jaye Wilson is related to Barbara Feinman,whose hat shop "Barbara Feinman Millinery" on East Seventh Street opened in 1998 and is still in business - go Babs! I do know that I read "Accessory to Murder" in one sitting and laughed out loud throughout.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. "There goes the neighborhood" has been the refrain of New York city leaseholders, ever since Edith Wharton ran down the interior decorating choices of the super-rich of 1898 in "Custom of the Country". Going but never gone - "there's life in the old girl yet", as Mehitabel used to say, and there's plenty of Mehitabel's left in the neighborhood (as well as a few cockroaches, literary and otherwise). Good news for me: I've got novels to write and a bad imagination, but all I need to do is walk around with my eyes and ears open. For my first novel "Poetic Justice", I came up with the tag line:
"Once you've made it in Manhattan, why would you be caught dead in Staten Island?"
Once you've made it in New York, they say, the next move is to say "Goodbye to all that." That'll be the day!
Note from Marilyn:
I've only been to New York City one, enjoyed it, but no way would I ever live there. Probably a good thing we don't all feel like Mitzi or that place would be more crowded than it already is.