THE EYE THAT NEVER SLEEPS, as far as crime novels go, is not a hard-boiled mystery. In fact, protagonist Sheldon Minick is more of a soft-boiled detective. He’s no gritty gumshoe, but he nevertheless loves the grimy streets of his New York. The novel also does not unfold like a traditional mystery, but more like a thriller-flavored version of My Fair Lady, with both Minick and his nemesis, dandy safecracker Nicolas Hale, trying to make the other over by introducing them to their own way of life via their vision of the city. It’s an interesting concept, and author Clifford Browder is careful that each man’s world is covered.
Readers will go to period gambling halls and attend parties at late night clubs, as well as spend evenings at home with Methodist families and hold meetings with lofty bank managers and railroad tycoons. The book is obviously well researched and lovingly written, and anyone with an interest in the city and the era will be rewarded by the pleasant prose and delightful details, right down to the sideburns on the main character’s face.
The book suggests one needs a complete urban environment to have a complete city. Many people would agree that houses of commerce, politics and worship are not that far apart ideologically, for better or for worse, but Browder goes a step further, linking them to whorehouses, slaughterhouses and brownstones as well. This is done without judgment. It’s treated as a simple fact, one that should be acknowledged to fully embrace a city.
The novel as a whole is a smooth affair, for the most part. A few of the characters are a bit broadly written, and every now and again Browder decides to start “spellink out ze Churman ackzents”, which might slow down the dialogue for some readers. Still, it’s a small complaint, and the offending speaker is far from a main character.
By far the most important character in THE EYE THAT NEVER SLEEPS is the city itself. At one point, Minick suggests that what sets him apart from his peers is his true adoration for New York. It is clear that Browder shares his subject’s adoration, and anyone with a taste for period piece crime novels might end up feeling the same way too.
THE EYE THAT NEVER SLEEPS might not keep readers up at night with its criminal thrills, but anyone who wants a lovingly composed picture of Victorian New York with an old school caper at its core will be more than satisfied.
~Colin Newton for IndieReader