(Reviewed by Tony Ross JAN 5, 2008)
I picked this book up because I'm interested in New York City around the time of World War I and hoped to find some great period detail in its pages -- that and I love a good con artist story. It opens with the harrowing story of Ben Cramb, a London lad who joined the Army with his tearaway pals in order to avoid prison. As with so many others in the trenches, disaster finds them quickly enough and only Ben survives to escape the war as a deserter, ending up in New York. There, suffering somewhat from posttraumatic stress disorder, he falls in with an experienced con artist, and attempts to learn the trade from him as they embark on an elaborate con of a wealthy Midwesterner.
Rather surprisingly, a third of the way into the book the narrative changes to that of the wealthy Midwesterner. He's not at all what he appears to be, and this sudden shift in perspective takes a little while to get used to after having gotten invested in Ben's story. We learn about this man and see Ben and Ben's wily mentor from his perspective as things build to a climax -- only for the story to halt and shift to a third narrator! Now, the story is told by a beautiful actress who is tied to several of the characters, and may actually be the master of them all. The elaborate multi-layered con game plays out against a backdrop of America's neutrality, daily news of the war, war material profiteers, and soforth.
Griffin's decision to halt the action right before the climax, shift perspective to a different narrator, and go back in time is a bold choice, and one I ultimately found to be more of nuisance than worthwhile. Part of the problem may be that he establishes Ben as such a compelling protagonist in the first third that we are loath to leave him for the company of other, less interesting narrators. And when that climax does finally arrive, it is accompanied by an historical event that robs the scene of its drama and sends it into a more ambiguous place. It's not a particularly satisfying finale to all the contortions and machinations that precede it. Nonetheless, the book is worth reading by fans of historical fiction for the careful plotting and keen use of the period.
- Amazon readers rating: from 10 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Dizzy City at author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Requiem Shark (1999)
- The House of Sight and Shadow (2001)
- The Masquerade (2002)
- Dizzy City (August 2007)
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- Official website for Nicholas Griffin
- Salon.com reivew of The Requiem Shark
- Reading Guide for The House of Sight and Shadow
- Time Out New York review of Dizzy City
- Page 99 test of Dizzy City
- Reading Under the Covers review of Dizzy City
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About the Author:
Nicholas Griffin was born and raised in London. His father is English, his mother is American, his wife is Venezuelan and his son only speaks Spanish. He wrote his first novel, The Requiem Shark, after genealogical research turned up a pirate in his family tree.
He is a former sales rep for Little, Brown and Co
He lives in New York City with his wife, son and dog (the dog is from New Jersey).