The Letter Writer
Dan Fesperman’s The Letter Writer is a classic example of old-fashioned noir with gritty detectives and seedy police officers, plenty of dead bodies piling up, corruption at the highest reaches and lowest levels of power, and a wartime tour of the nation’s largest melting pot. No one can be trusted, and even the main characters conceal much about themselves though they need each other to stay alive.
Set in early 1942 New York, just after the U.S. has entered the war, The Letter Writer features Woodrow Cain, a NYPD detective who left North Carolina and a troubled past behind him to start anew in the north, and Max Danzinger, an erudite, multilingual man who, by writing letters for illiterate immigrants, helps his clients conceal and forget their past. After Danzinger helps Cain identify a floater found in the Hudson River, Cain discovers that the letter writer also knows the dead man was involved in “Little Deutschland” where suspected Nazi sympathizers are active. With Danzinger’s knowledge of the city, Cain’s investigation uncovers a network of traitorous corruption that could cost them both their lives.
Having lived in New York City, I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the neighborhoods and how the city worked—or didn’t—at such a crucial juncture in our history. I found it a bit hard to get into at first, but definitely recommend it for fans of classic noir and historical crime novels.