Monday, June 30, 2008

Robert Moses

One name keeps coming up unbidden during my appearances for BLOOD ALLEY. The name (as you've probably surmised from the title of this post) is Robert Moses, the longtime master builder and planner of New York City and State.

Moses did play a role in the development of the United Nations complex. After the Rockefeller family donated the land to the UN, Moses wrote up the legal agreements that were necessary to make the deal a reality. It took him only four days. By all accounts, the agreements were flawless.

Moses is mentioned a couple of times in passing in my book.

He is most widely known today as the subject of Robert Caro's monumental (in every sense of the word) biography, THE POWER BROKER. Caro's book came out in the mid-1970s, when New York had reached rock bottom, and it laid just about all of the city's ills at Moses's feet. In fact, while I was growing up, my parents always referred to him as "Robert Moses the Man Who Ruined New York," and for a long time I thought that was his full name.

As the years have passed, attitudes toward Moses have softened. (Mine included.) For all his faults -- which were, yes, monumental -- the man made some vital contributions to the New York area: Jones Beach, the UN, Lincoln Center, and lots and lots of parks. Although the city and state's elected leaders should never have let the man get anywhere near a road or a housing project.

Toward the end of his career, Moses's nemesis appeared in the unlikely form of Jane Jacobs, who called for a more organic, bottom-up method of urban development. Moses had the power, but Jacobs won the argument. Today her ideas are much more influential than this. And rightly so.

But still -- New York City has lost its capacity to get great things done. The city needs a new Penn Station. It can't get built. We're approaching the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and the Trade Center site is still, essentially, a hole in the ground. The latest news reports cast serious doubt that anything significant will be built on the site by the tenth anniversary of the attacks.

Robert Moses got things done. Sometimes it wasn't pretty. Sometimes people's feelings got hurt. But creating big public projects will inevitably create friction, and municipalities need a man or a woman who has technical expertise and a large amount of chutzpah to get the deed accomplished.

Seen from the early 21st century, Caro's book looks less like the last word and more like the case for the prosecution. It is a cautionary tale. Nobody should ever amass all the power that Moses had (numerous city and state positions at the same time, plus heading a number of unelected and unaccountable public authorities). Politicians should not abdicate their most important responsibility -- oversight over the people who are supposed to do the public's business.

But, writing as a resident of Lower Manhattan, it would really be nice to have somebody around who could get Ground Zero rebuilt.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Next Book

One of the joys/frustrations/pitfalls of touring is the question that somebody in the audience inevitably poses: What's your next book about?

Sometimes I feel like saying: "I'm not even thinking about my next book. I'm trying to sell this one!"

That would be rude, so I'd never actually say it. But I can put it on my blog.

And, of course, I AM working on a book. Right now, what it's about is 120,000 words, and I'm not even done with the first draft.

The book, still untitled, is a mystery-suspense thriller. It's set mostly in New York and its suburbs about a year and half after 9/11. The buildup to the Iraq war is going on in the background (a motif that worked well in Ian McEwan's "Saturday"). There are side excursions to Florida and California, and some of the action harkens back to events that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.

Even from this brief description, you can see that the book sprawls a bit. I'll have to tighten it as it goes through subsequent drafts. I hope to have the first draft finished by the end of the year, and I should be shopping it around sometime next year. So 2010 is the earliest I can see it hitting bookstores and Web sites near you.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Upstate Tour

I spent part of this weekend at events in Skaneateles and Oswego. I went to college in upstate New York, and the weather was exactly as I remembered: it rained one minute, was sunny the next, and the next minute there were sun showers. At least it wasn't snowing.

The kickoff event occurred Saturday, at a Barnes & Noble on Staten Island. I grew up on Staten Island, and my parents still live there. The crowd was small but lively, and we had an interesting discussion that eventually centered on Robert Moses, the longtime roads and building czar in New York. Moses is mentioned in passing a couple of times in BLOOD ALLEY.

Moses's career was chronicled in exhaustive depth in Robert Caro's THE POWER BROKER. It's a terrific book, and when you've finished, you can use it as a door stop.

I had not been to Skaneateles in thirty years, and the town was as beautiful as I remembered. It's on the easternmost of the Finger Lakes and it is, in fact, picture postcard perfect. Erika Davis and the staff at Creekside Books & Coffee did an excellent job hosting my appearance. It's a charming store, and we had another small but lively crowd. (The early afternoon weather was beautiful, and it's hard to compete with that.) We wound up talking about the book I've just finished reading, Graham Greene's THE QUIET AMERICAN. It's an excellent novel, and a cautionary tale, but you won't be able to use it as a door stop.

It took me about an hour to drive to Oswego for my appearance at the Rivers End Bookstore. Bill Reilly and his wife, Mindy, were enthusiastic about BLOOD ALLEY, and proved to be gracious hosts. About a dozen people were there, and we, too, wound up talking about Robert Moses (among other things). I may have to do a longer post about him in the near future. Rivers End is a terrific store, and it recently celebrated its tenth year of operation. Hearty congratulations are due to Bill, Mindy, and the staff. BTW, I received a lovely tote bag that I now plan to display all over the New York City subway system.

As I left the store, Mindy gave me a couple of pieces of cranberry/pumpkin bread for my ride back home. I devoured all of it by the time I reached Binghamton.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wednesday at the Police Museum

I conducted a nice event around lunchtime today at the New York City Police Museum. One of the gentlemen in attendance -- Paul Statler, the museum's manager of visitor services -- grew up on the East Side of Manhattan near the Third Avenue El. As readers of BLOOD ALLEY know, the El figures prominently in the book. So I may have asked Mr. Statler more questions than he asked me. He had interesting recollections about the Ruppert brewery in the East 90s, and said he can still remember the smell of hops from the plant. He also talked about the allure of the Stork Club, and noted that he never set foot in the place.

The Stork Club figures prominently in BLOOD ALLEY, and I make a passing reference to the Ruppert brewery in the book. It's worth noting that the money from the brewery enabled Colonel Ruppert (as he was known from his service in the National Guard) to buy the New York Yankees.

The museum is an interesting place, with a lot of reference and archival materials available to writers and others with an interest in New York City police matters. And the people who run it are really, really nice. The museum is located in Lower Manhattan, and it can be found online at

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Welcome to Blood Alley

This blog has been created to post my thoughts (and yours) about my latest novel, BLOOD ALLEY. I intend to check in from time to time, and post comments about my appearances and the reactions I've been receiving to the book.

I look forward to hearing from readers ... or from anyone who has an interest in New York City in the 1940s, especially in the years immediately after World War II. It was a fascinating time, and lately I've been wondering if I want to revisit it in some other novels, in much the way that Alan Furst keeps setting his novels in Europe in the late 1930s and early 1940s. After all, you've done all that research ... why not just keep going?