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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Prince of Darkness by Shane White

Front cover
Published 2015, 316 pages, of which I only could slog through 100 before giving up reading further.  This sounded like an interesting historical  tale, but  was very tiresome reading.  Each of the 13 chapters has an interesting title to introduce the story, based on pg 12, "material drawn from the records generated by his serial court appointments."  The author appears to have a solid background in literature and history of the times and includes interesting tidbits, as an effort to deposit the knowledge accumulated researching the main character. 

Back cover
 The opening was enticing, Chapter 1, The Invisible Man, page 1, "It was still dark when the reporter slipped into the Halls of Justice on Center Street, an architectural disaster known on account of its misguided inspiration as the Egyptian Tombs, or simply the Tombs, and glanced at the previous night's watch returns.  His eye fixed on the entry for a small time criminal who preyed mostly on other blacks in and around the Five Points, by the early 1840's, the best known slum in the world.  In truth there were scores of black con men just like him, living off their wits and a glib tongue."  .. "What had caught his fancy was that this African American had taken the name John Jacob Astor."  Page 2, excerpt,  "Astor was one of the earliest  individuals to whom contemporaries attached the novel description"millionaire".  By the 1840's the word first used by Lord Byron in 1836, was well on its way to becoming an American label."..."And the joke worked because a black John Jacob Astor was an oxymoron."  The author explains the book in  the first 14 pages.  Perhaps another author with greater story telling abilities could have written this with the limited facts in such a way to keep me reading.  As I noted, lots of information scattered here and there, historical tidbits, but just could not hold my attention.  

Pages 67-69 describe slaves and indentured servants  in New York City, "typically in the city, husband and wife had different owners--meant it was not at all unusual for one or more family members to remain enslaved for some time after their kin had achieved freedom...." Page 70 describes how court records detail, "involvement of very young African American females in violence against their owners.  ...December 1811, an eight year old black servant girl having been whipped by her mistress, used a burning log from the kitchen fire to try and incinerate her owner's stables."  .."arson was among the most atrocious of human offences."  

To me the book was very disappointing, lacked coherence and  flow and I decided not to read further, too many other good books to read. Too bad, but it did not work trying to piece a tale from legal and court records.   I give this only 1 *, and have donated it to the library sale.  

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