Lizzie Borden and Amanda Burton join forces with Dorothy Parker to solve a grisly murder in Prohibition-era New York in this “assured and witty” mystery ( Publishers Weekly). Sixteen-year-old Amanda Burton is thrilled to be spending the summer in New York City at her glamorous uncle John’s apartment in the Dakota while her parents are off visiting Tibet. It’s 1924, the decade is roaring, and she’s out on the town every night with her father’s flamboyant younger brother—seeing Broadway shows, going to fancy restaurants and speakeasies, meeting John’s rich and famous friends, and even an occasional gangster. It’s all great fun—until the morning she stumbles upon her uncle dead on the floor with a hatchet blade buried in his skull. And with Amanda as the prime murder suspect, the New York City cops consider the case as good as closed. Luckily the hapless teen has an old ally in town: the infamous—albeit acquitted—alleged axe murderess Lizzie Borden. Miss Lizzie and her new pal, the renowned acerbic wit Dorothy Parker, are on the job faster than you can say, “Forty whacks.” But trolling the glittering New York night scene and underworld for a killer can be a dangerous occupation for an old lady with a shady past, a sharp-witted literary icon, and a teenager with a history of violently losing relatives—especially when they keep turning up dead bodies.
About the Author
Walter Satterthwait (b. 1946) is an author of mysteries and historical fiction. A fan of mystery novels from a young age, he spent high school immersed in the works of Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane. While working as a bartender in New York in the late 1970s, he wrote his first book: an adventure novel, Cocaine Blues (1979), about a drug dealer on the run from a pair of killers. After his second thriller, The Aegean Affair (1982), Satterthwait created his best-known character, Santa Fe private detective Joshua Croft. Beginning with Wall of Glass (1988), Satterthwait wrote five Croft novels, concluding the series with 1996’s Accustomed to the Dark. In between Croft books, he wrote mysteries starring historical figures, including Miss Lizzie (1989), a novel about Lizzie Borden, and Wilde West (1991), a western mystery starring Oscar Wilde. New York Nocturne (2016) is his most recent novel.
Read an Excerpt
New York Nocturne
The Return of Miss Lizzie
By Walter Satterthwait
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 2016 Walter Satterthwait
All rights reserved.
For a brief while there, before things began to fall apart, it was truly a glorious time.
I was sixteen years old and I was free, personally free, in a way that I had never been before, and possibly never would be again. And I was free in the city of New York, which was situated, as New Yorkers have always known, in the exact geographical center of the universe.
My father and my stepmother, Susan, had finally left Boston and set off on the journey they had been promising to each other for three years: an expedition that would take them halfway around the world, to Tibet and Lhasa and a trek through the Himalayas. Back then, in 1924, before international air travel and international telephone lines, and the escalating horrors of international tourism, this was truly an adventure.
It was an adventure, however, that neither I nor my older brother, William, wished to share. William refused it because he had fallen in love with yet another ethereal literature major in a black pullover. I, because I saw no virtue in wild, windy mountains and yak butter tea at the time. (I have since changed my mind about the mountains.)
After a certain amount of discussion, Father and Susan had finally agreed to let me spend the summer in New York. While the two of them were frolicking with Sherpas and yetis, I would be staying with my father's younger brother, John Burton, in a famous apartment building near Central Park called the Dakota.
William, four years older than I, would remain in Boston, within wooing distance of the literature major. He had been to New York once, he told me, and it had shown him nothing at all. William was the older brother par excellence — endearing but mistaken about nearly everything.
Father and Susan left on June the second. On the sixth, at seven o'clock in the morning, William drove me to the station where I boarded the train. Six hours later, after rattling through southern New England and southeast New York State; crossing the Harlem River into Manhattan; plunging beneath the exotic streets of busy Harlem; and swaying and clanking along a gloomy, dank, and seemingly endless tunnel, the train arrived at the lower level of the Grand Central Terminal.
Between them, my uncle and Susan had arranged that John and I meet at the information booth on the main floor. A bit dazed, my suitcase dangling from my right hand, my purse dangling from my left shoulder, I stepped gingerly off the car and began treading down the platform, tilted slightly to my suitcase side.
The tunnel was still dank, but it was illuminated now with flickering yellow lights set in little wire cages along the concrete columns. Scuttling around me were hundreds of other passengers in business suits and smart summer dresses, all of them rushing toward enterprises of vast and immediate importance. I felt diminished, made suddenly inadequate and trivial by their zeal.
I followed the crowd, was swept along with it, nudged forward, jostled sideways. Not that anyone actually touched me, of course, but New Yorkers have learned how to make mere momentum contagious. Surrounded by them and their hurry, I stalked into the station and lugged my luggage up the broad, bright white stairway into the main concourse.
It was a revelation. Today — and I have not been to Grand Central Station for decades now — I can still recall precisely how I felt the first time I stepped out onto that flat expanse of marble, beneath that vast, vaulted blue ceiling sparkling with golden stars. Sunlight toppled down through the towering arched windows and splashed across the enormous room and the eager humanity who scurried across it. Men and women and children, singly and in groups, dashed this way and that. Behind clattering wooden carts piled high with baggage, red-capped porters hurried to and fro.
Awed and excited, I felt as though I had stumbled into a cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of Hustle and Bustle. As I stood there, still panting from the journey to the surface of the earth, the air around me seemed to shimmer and hum.
I was here! I was in New York!
I hauled the suitcase over to the information booth: a squat, upright cylinder of gleaming brass and glass huddled in the center of the concourse. On its four quadrants, travelers were arrayed in uneven, impatient lines, waiting to commune, one on one, with the earnest blue-uniformed dignitaries inside.
I looked up at the big round clock atop the booth.
Fifteen minutes after one.
I was late.
Had my uncle come and gone?
I noticed that I was perspiring — demurely, of course, as one does. My sleeves were damp.
"Ah," said a voice behind me. "Amanda?"
Two men stood there, both in their early thirties. One of them was short and wore a black three-piece suit at least two sizes too small for his square, broad body. His black hair was slicked back from his square, broad forehead. His entire face, too, was square and broad, and it was flattened in front, as though someone had recently slammed something against it — a cruise ship, perhaps.
I recognized the other man from a photograph Father had once shown me. But this man was slightly older and impossibly better looking than the man in the photograph. With the exception of my first husband, my uncle John was the most handsome man I have ever met.
Tall, slim, and clean-shaven, he smelled faintly of some astringent, terribly masculine cologne. His thick hair was black, his nose was straight, and his teeth were white. His eyes were a soft incandescent blue — the precise color of robins' eggs, but flecked with tiny dancing sparkles of gold.
He wore a cream-colored two-piece linen suit, a blue silk shirt with a white collar, a red silk tie, a pair of tan silk socks, and a pair of serenely polished two-tone brown wing-tip shoes. Jauntily, down at his left thigh, between thumb and forefinger, he held the brim of a bone-white Panama hat.
Smiling politely, he offered his right hand to me, and I took it. He shook my hand formally once, twice, and then released it.
"This is Albert," he said, and then grinned proudly, like an inventor showing off a recent triumph. "A good friend of mine," he said, and slapped the other man on his thick shoulder.
Albert nodded his big square head. "Very pleased to meet you," he said and held out his hand.
"How do you do?" I reached for his lumpy hand, which seemed to be constructed entirely of knuckles. The thick fingers enclosed themselves around mine with an unexpected gentleness. He grinned at me, too, and said, "I am perfectly well, thank you. And yourself, miss?"
"Very well," I said. "Thank you."
"Albert'll take your suitcase," said my uncle.
"Sure I will," said Albert. He released my hand and reached out for the bag. I handed it to him, and he plucked it lightly away as though it held a mere handful of feathers and not my entire summer wardrobe. I half-expected him to tuck it under his arm, like a portfolio.
"Now," said my uncle, "have you eaten?"
"I had some crackers on the train."
"Crackers aren't food. They're passatempi. Time passers."
"I understand the word," I said, perhaps a shade more curtly than necessary.
He raised an eyebrow. "You speak Italian?"
"I studied Latin." Even without Latin, the word wouldn't have been that difficult to puzzle out.
He looked at me for a moment, and then he laughed. It was quite a nice laugh, full and quick and easy. He shook his head. He ran his hand back through his hair, held it there, cupping the back of his neck, and then looked down at me aslant. "Of course you did. And I'm being a horse's ass, aren't I?"
I laughed then myself, in surprise and relief.
"Look," he said, "this is a big deal for me. Isn't it, Albert? Didn't I say it was a big deal?"
Albert had been following our conversation gravely, his big square head slowly swaying back and forth. Now he nodded again. "An extremely big deal," he assured me.
"I meet my niece for the first time," said my uncle, "and I'm expecting a little girl." He held his hand out at waist level. "Like this. And wearing God knows what — what do little girls wear?" He turned to Albert. "Dirndls?"
Albert shrugged massively, as though to say that he could not even begin to guess what it was that little girls wore.
My uncle turned back to me. "And instead I find a beautiful young woman wearing a beautiful French frock — it is French, isn't it?"
"Yes." My eyelids fluttered, as they often did back then. It was my way of briefly shuttering out the world when it suddenly became too awkward or too close.
I knew that I was not a beautiful young woman. I knew that my eyes were too far apart, my neck was too long, and my mouth too wide. But I had learned that sometimes, occasionally, if I were wearing just the right sort of finery, if I were standing exactly right in exactly the right sort of lighting, I could maybe hoodwink people into believing that I was at least pretty.
It was generous of him to permit himself to be hoodwinked, or to pretend he was, and unexpected generosity always made the world around me suddenly too awkward. Or too close.
I told him, "Susan — my stepmother — she bought it for me last month."
"I'd say that you and Susan have excellent taste."
"Thank you." It was a lovely cotton frock: sleeveless, summery lemon-yellow, drop-waisted, with a light and almost gauzy matching jacket — a very chic jacket, even if its sleeves at the moment were a trifle damp.
"Anyway," he said, "you caught me off guard. And I acted like a jerk. I apologize."
"No, no," I said. "You don't have to apologize."
"When you act like a jerk, you apologize. Am I right, Albert?"
Albert firmly nodded. "It is the done thing."
My uncle smiled. "All right, look. How do you feel about seafood?"
"I love it," I told him honestly.
"Good. Here's what I suggest. Albert here takes your suitcase up to the apartment. Is there anything in it you need right now?"
"Not really, no. I don't think so."
"Okay. There's a seafood place here in the station. Nice place. An oyster bar. You and I can grab a bite to eat, get to know each other. And then, if you're up to it, we can explore some of the city before we head home. That sound all right?"
"It sounds really wonderful," I said.
"Good." Another smile. "But not so much enthusiasm. Everyone will know you're from out of town."
I nodded seriously. "And that's very bad."
He grinned. "The worst." He turned to Albert. "We'll be back by six, probably," he told him.
Albert nodded. "You want I should prepare some supper? Maybe a nice nourishing soufflé? Maybe a small green salad? With that escarole?"
"No, Albert, thanks. There's plenty of food in the icebox. You take off. We'll see you on Monday." He slapped him on the shoulder again, then turned back to me. "Let's go."
Albert and I said our goodbyes, and then he lumbered away with the suitcase.
"This way," said my uncle, pointing his Panama like an Amazon explorer, and together we set off through the jungle of passengers.
Looking straight ahead, he leaned slightly toward me. "Can I ask you one small favor?"
Still looking straight ahead, he said, "I call you Amanda, right?"
"Yes, of course."
"Well, you can call me anything you want. John. Jack. Millard." He turned to me, smiling. "But I'd be very grateful if you didn't call me 'Uncle John.'"
"Okay," I said. "Sure."
"Would that be okay?" he asked me as we started down a gently inclined marble corridor. "Do you mind?"
Flattered by his asking, I shook my head. "No. Not at all. Millard?"
He grinned. "My sergeant, in the army. An idiot."
He was really quite extraordinarily handsome. And it was really quite amazing the way those golden flecks floated in that blue of iris.
Cocking his head, he said, "It's just that 'Uncle John' ... well, it makes me feel ... a tiny bit ossified."
"Which would you prefer?" I asked him.
"John, I suppose. John would be fine." He smiled again. "You know ossified?"
"Like a bone. Old. Inflexible, rigid."
He laughed. "So John's okay?"
"John is fine." I had never called an adult by his first name before.
He smiled, and read my mind. "Don't worry," he said. "You'll get used to it."
And I wondered whether I would ever truly get used to it. With an uncle. Especially an uncle like this one.
We ate at the Oyster Bar — which, on that day, became the first of my favorite restaurants in New York.
John and I were still somewhat wary of each other. We were total strangers, after all, passersby connected only by the mysterious accident of blood. If either of us were a disappointment to the other, might that not suggest some inherited flaw in ourselves as well?
After we ordered our food, he sipped at his coffee and studied me. "You look a lot like your mother," he said.
Running down the exact center of his square chin was a sculpted cleft, the sort of cleft that a fully grown woman suddenly might find herself wishing to examine more closely, perhaps with the thoughtful tip of a stroking finger. Or so I imagined.
"I never knew her," I told him.
"I know. It was a tragedy. A real tragedy. William was a wreck."
It took me a moment to realize that he meant my father, not my brother.
He put down his coffee cup. "I liked her. She was smart, very smart. And very beautiful."
"When did you meet her?"
"At the wedding. Just that once."
"I've seen pictures. Do you really think I look like her?"
"Yes." He smiled. "Are you fishing?"
Once again I felt my cheeks redden. "For what?"
"Ah. Your face gives you away."
"Yes," I said, "well, I'm from out of town."
He laughed. "Smart, too. Like your mother."
I fluttered my lashes and carefully examined the tablecloth, which had suddenly become a still center point around which the awkward, lovely world revolved.
It was a wonderful meal: oysters on the half shell, fleshy gray Belons from Maine; a rich, savory, sea-scented oyster stew as well; then a sumptuous baked stuffed lobster; and finally a sinfully dense cheesecake heaped high with slick sweet strawberries.
Afterward, in the intersection of corridors directly opposite the restaurant's entrance, John showed me the whispering corners. If a person stood facing one stone corner of the square, and another person stood facing the corner diagonally opposite, each could speak to the other in a whisper and still be heard perfectly, despite the crowd churning and chattering between them and behind their backs.
Delighted, I glanced up at the low gray arches overhead. I whispered, "The sound travels along the ceiling!"
"Exactly," whispered the stones.
"Is this a big secret?" I asked them.
"Well," they said, "there are still two people in Brooklyn who don't know about it."
"Come on," said the stones. "We'll do the town."
We left the terminal at the Vanderbilt Avenue exit, walked beneath the dark sweep of the bridge above Park Avenue, turned right at Forty-Second Street, and headed west. It was a fabulously sunny day. John's unbuttoned coat flapped and fluttered heroically in the breeze.
We walked past Madison to Fifth Avenue, just north of the wonderful white sprawl of the New York Public Library and its wonderful sprawling lions. We turned right and marched along Fifth up through the Forties. As we walked, John pointed out the sights: the Shepard and the Goelet brownstones, the Church of St. Nicholas, the Vanderbilt mansions, St. Patrick's Cathedral. By then we were in the Fifties, passing all the sparkling storefronts — Steuben Glass, Cartier, Bergdorf Goodman.
It was in the window of Bergdorf Goodman, among an elaborate display of mannequins — slick young papier-mâché men and women frozen in a tableau around a gleaming black Stutz Bearcat automobile — that I saw the hat. I stopped walking.
One of the figures was wearing it. She stood with her left foot on the car's shiny running board, her right arm on the doorframe, as she stared, unblinking, into the unblinking eyes of the resolutely jaunty driver.
"What is it?" asked John.
"Oh, nothing. Just looking."
"Nice car," he said.
"I like the hat." I nodded toward the mannequin.
"Ah," he said. "Iris Storm."
Excerpted from New York Nocturne by Walter Satterthwait. Copyright © 2016 Walter Satterthwait. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Thoroughly enjoyable. More
Jazz age New York City - a city of glamor, thrills, and murder There is something about Jazz Age New York that captures the imagination - the glamorous allure of speakeasies, charming gangsters in sharp suits, high living and fast times. Decadence and corruption served up on a silver platter. It is not surprising that the reader, like 16 year old Amanda is quickly caught up in the allure of New York and the charm of her uncle John. But when her uncle is found murdered, the glamor shatters. The police quickly target Amanda as a convenient suspect, easy to accuse as she has no nearby family to help her. The police do not count on one thing - Miss Lizzie Borden. Hearing of Amanda's arrest, she quickly comes to her aid, hiring both a skilled lawyer and a private investigator. John wasn't exactly the man Amanda believed him to be. Among his clients are rich, powerful criminals known to influence New York officials, including the police. Unless they find exactly who murdered John and why, Amanda may be convicted despite her innocence. The colorful and diverse cast of characters adds to the allure of New York Nocturne - particularly the enigmatic Miss Lizzie and the darkly attractive Mr Cutter. Amanda's recollections wind throughout the narrative, offering tantalizing clues regarding Amanda's future career as an agent. Walter Satterthwait's New York glitters, but the reader is always aware of the threat of violence beneath the chic facade. I was enraptured by the depiction of the city and era, and thrilled by both the fast action and the larger than life characters. Whether you like historical mysteries or are simply looking for an enticing jazz-era read, New York Nocturne is a fabulous choice. I eagerly await Walter Satterthwait's next novel. I want to know what Amanda's next adventure will entail. 5/5 I received a copy of New York Nocturne from the publisher and Netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review. --Crittermom