The Mid­night Band of Mercy

Michael Blaine
  • Review
By – August 10, 2012

It’s 1893 in New York City. Max Green­grass is a brash young free­lance reporter who gets paid by the word. He’s liv­ing in a room­ing house oper­at­ed by a Mrs. De Vogt, an out­spo­ken fem­i­nist who loves to inflict her opin­ions on her young board­ers. His income is inter­mit­tent and lim­it­ed, and Max makes do by tak­ing advan­tage of great deals like eat­ing in bars where you can get cold cuts, salt­ed cod and pick­led fish” along with a cou­ple of cheap beers. Every time he comes close to get­ting hired on as a staff reporter, he seems to trip over his own feet and blow the deal. 

For­tu­nate­ly, Max is also good at trip­ping over sto­ries in the most unex­pect­ed places. When an eccen­tric band of sub­ur­ban women start mur­der­ing cats in large num­bers and a young man is inex­plic­a­bly mur­dered as well, Max just hap­pens to be right at the scenes of the crimes. He’s off on a mer­ry chase, try­ing to impress the edi­tor of the New York Her­ald and final­ly nab the job of his dreams. 

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the mur­der case hits too close to home. The mur­der vic­tim, whose body dis­ap­pears short­ly after he’s shot, was involved with a fel­low board­er with whom Max is seri­ous­ly in lust. To make mat­ters worse, the dead guy’s father offers to pay him gen­er­ous­ly to keep the sto­ry out of the papers. Max finds him­self deal­ing with com­plex issues of ambi­tion, mon­ey, lust and ethics. As if he didn’t have enough on his plate, he’s also fight­ing his attrac­tion to a sec­ond res­i­dent of the room­ing house and cop­ing with his best friend’s devel­op­ing rela­tion­ship with his sister.

Michael Blaine’s The Mid­night Band of Mer­cy is much more than a for­mu­la­ic mur­der mys­tery. It’s a fine­ly craft­ed peri­od piece, a great time machine of a book that immers­es the read­er in the bustling life and com­plex prob­lems of a city in tran­si­tion. Among the char­ac­ters, some real, some fic­tion­al, are the Jer­ry Fal­wells and Alan Dershowitz’s of their day. Blaine tack­les issues like pol­i­tics, race, class, home­less­ness and insur­ance fraud with­out being preachy and the main char­ac­ters are flawed, lik­able and fas­ci­nat­ing. One of the most appeal­ing aspects of the book is that very lit­tle is as it appears on the sur­face, and that the sur­pris­es have lit­tle to do with obvi­ous attempts to star­tle the read­er and more to do with the true com­plex­i­ties of human life. 

The sto­ries that Max is chas­ing are com­pelling, and get­ting to the crux of them is sat­is­fy­ing. Equal­ly grat­i­fy­ing is get­ting to the crux of Max. He’s well worth get­ting acquaint­ed with, and Mike Blaine would serve his read­ers well by pro­vid­ing us with more Max Green­grass adventures. 

Nao­mi Tropp recent­ly retired after a long career in non­prof­it man­age­ment. She worked on the Ann Katz Fes­ti­val of Books at the Indi­anapo­lis JCC for 9 of its twelve years and direct­ed the fes­ti­val for three of those years.

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