Sunday, December 26, 2010

North River

For a book that includes so much actual, not to mention potential violence, Pete Hamill’s North River is at its heart a very gentle novel. 

 Dr. James Delaney, a WWI medic who was himself wounded in the war, is having a tough time of it in 1934 Greenwich Village.  Delaney’s neighborhood patients are suffering the effects of the Depression and cash money to pay for Delaney’s services is hard to come by.  Despite the fact that his wife, Molly, who suffers from depression, has walked out of his life and has not been heard from since, Delaney keeps her room as she left it in hopes that she will walk back into his world one day.

His day-to-day routine, bleak as it is, is rocked one day when Delaney returns home to find that his daughter Grace has abandoned her two-year-old son at his doorstep.  At first, Delaney is filled with anger that Grace would do such a thing.  Later, he will realize that little Carlito and Rose, the woman he hired to help him care for the little boy, are two of the best things that ever happened to him.

Delaney’s life grows complicated when he is called upon to save the life of Eddie Corso, a local mobster who has been gunned down by a rival gang.  Delaney and Corso have a history going back to the first time Delaney saved Corso’s life – when Delaney risked German snipers to get to the severely wounded Corso one horrible day during the war.  The bond the two men formed that day is as strong as ever.  Unfortunately for Delaney and his grandson, rival gangster Frankie Botts is convinced that Delaney knows where the recuperating Corso is hiding, and Botts is willing to do anything to get that information, even if it involves the boy.

But now comes the gentle (and best) part of the story.  North River is really a very well written love story that encompasses the love of a man for his lost wife, his estranged daughter, his grandson, and soon enough for Rose, the Italian illegal emigrant who has moved so seamlessly into his life.  Before long, little Carlito, who spent his first two years living in Mexico, is speaking Spanish, English, and even a good bit of Italian as he charms everyone in the Delaney household.  Carlito’s world is one of constant discovery, and before long the adults around him cannot but help see the world through his new eyes, too.

North River gives the reader a remarkable feel for life in one New York City neighborhood during the Depression.  Hamill’s sense of what everyday life was like for those who lived within a few blocks of the Village during the thirties is a key element of his story.  This is a combination of superb historical fiction, crime fiction and romance and, as such, it will certainly appeal to a variety of readers.  Don’t miss this one.

Rated at: 5.0


  1. What a terrific review and endorsement... this will be a book I will watch for. I recently read a thriller type novel set in New Jersey / New York [Richard Price / Samaritan] and found that I very much like all of the urbanity of it. This one, albeit dated earlier, sounds like a similar feel to it.
    Thanks for this review Sam.
    Happy New Year to you!

  2. It probably does have a similar feel, Cip. It's very much a big-city book with lots of use of the NY subway system to get around to places of interest and a great description of life in one little neighborhood surrounded by countless others. NYC already had a huge population and it was interesting to see how they adapted to the constraints of the Depression. Good stuff, all the way around.