A gun moll with a knack for disappearing flees from Prohibition-era Harlem to Portland's Paragon Hotel.
The year is 1921, and "Nobody" Alice James has just arrived in Oregon with a bullet wound, a lifetime's experience battling the New York Mafia, and fifty thousand dollars in illicit cash. She befriends Max, a black Pullman porter who reminds her achingly of home and who saves Alice by leading her to the Paragon Hotel. But her unlikely sanctuary turns out to be an all-black hotel in a Jim Crow city, and its lodgers seem unduly terrified of a white woman on the premises.
As she meets the churlish Dr. Pendleton, the stately Mavereen, and the club chanteuse Blossom Fontaine, she understands their dread. The Ku Klux Klan has arrived in Portland in fearful numbersburning crosses, electing officials, infiltrating newspapers, and brutalizing blacks. And only Alice and her new Paragon "family" are searching for a missing mulatto child who has mysteriously vanished into the woods. To untangle the web of lies and misdeeds around her, Alice will have to answer for her own past, too.
A richly imagined novel starring two indomitable heroines, The Paragon Hotel at once plumbs the darkest parts of America's past and the most redemptive facets of humanity. From international-bestselling, multi-award-nominated writer Lyndsay Faye, it's a masterwork of historical suspense.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Lyndsay Faye is the author of five critically acclaimed books: Jane Steele, which was nominated for an Edgar for Best Novel; Dust and Shadow; The Gods of Gotham, also Edgar-nominated; Seven for a Secret; and The Fatal Flame. Faye, a true New Yorker in the sense she was born elsewhere, lives in New York City with her husband, Gabriel.
Read an Excerpt
F One F
New York probably is infested with as savage a horde of cut-throats, rats, treacherous gunmen and racketeers as ever swarmed upon a rich and supine principality.
-Stanley Walker, The Night Club Era, 1933
Sitting against the pillows of a Pullman sleeper, bones clacking like the pistons of the metal beast speeding me westward, I wonder if I'm going to die.
The walls of my vibrating coffin are polished mahogany, windows spotless, reflecting onyx midnight presently. I've been watching them for several days. When I wasn't switching trains, which was its own jostling hell and doesn't bear repeating.
Does Salt Lake City ever bear repeating, really?
I don't even suppose I took the fastest route cross-country. So long as I was always moving. I remember fleeing New York, still adrift with the shock. Battling sucking currents of lost love and lost city dragging me under. Changing at Chicago I remember-the hustle, the weight of all that metal, the sheer rank sweat of making the connection. I recall prim forests, sloping hills. Downy wheat tufts, crops we tore through like an iron bomb, and desolate empty skies. Big burgs, shabby shacks, towns undeserving of the word, all blurring into America.
But at night it's been the black window, the white alcove curtain, smells of cigarettes and pot roast and cold cream, and the fever slick coating my brow confirming that I'm going to die.
I'm in shock, possibly. Despair, certainly.
Now it hits me in a crack of panic that I'd prefer death drop by when I'm ninety and not twenty-five, supposing it's all the same to the Harding administration.
Panting, I tug at my hair. The sudden flare momentarily douses the fire in other locales. I wonder when my bunkmate will return to torment me. I wouldn't have taken a sleeping car if I hadn't been forced-acquaintances are dangerous. They pore over your mug out of sheer boredom, make remarks like God, isn't our porter just dreadful, these sheets are barely tucked in. They don't give a knotted cherry stem what you think of the porter, they can't really see him anyhow. No, they hanker to watch you react to them. Then they can journal it, whether you're haughty or humble or hateful. Whether you're all right.
Whether you're not all right, which is ever so much more interesting.
Dangerous, what with death and dismemberment potentially in hot pursuit. I couldn't go full-scale deluxe, though. A private car would have been checked first by someone searching this train, any cadet axman would chart the same course. Private cars, sleeping cars, then public seating. Maybe I ought to lend a hand to the brakeman, trade a few dirty jokes in exchange for a hiding place.
If only I could dangle from the undercarriage like a bat.
The bullet wound deposited in Harlem started reaping interest in Chicago, and now we're well past Walla Walla and it's aiming to make me a swell payout. Last time I staggered to the facilities, it looked like a volcano had erupted, crusted reds and blacks. Now it's eating me alive. I can't sit up in a public car. Has to be a sleeper, has to be this one; I leaped on this connecting train in Denver like an outlaw onto the town's last nag.
My heart isn't beating, it's clenching its fist at me.
Beastly. Tears keep welling up and my throat keeps closing, and no, I say.
You're called Nobody for a reason. Just be yourself. Be Nobody.
Be Nobody, and breathe.
Having died before, I ought to be more sanguine over the prospect. I first died six days ago at the Murder Stable, when Officer Harry Chipchase hustled me out of that gruesome dungeon, snapping, "Run, kid!"
"Damn it, Nobody, hitch a ride to the moon. You're dead to this town now, you hear?" Harry was always dour, but I'd never seen his face turned the color of molding cheese previous. "I swear to you, I'll find a body somewheres. Trust me, kid. You died today. Now, run."
Portland, Oregon, is as far as I can think of from New York, New York. Still. It might not be far enough. If I can get to Portland, he can track me there. In 1921, you can get practically anywhere with a little jack jingling in your pocket.
I identify a faint, floating nausea not confined to just my belly. My skin is actually queasy. Tiny ripples pass along it as if my body is a river. That's new. I don't much care for new things just now.
Terror gushes, but I choke out a "Come in?"
The paneled door slides, and I exhale. It isn't my forced companion-she must still be gossiping in the dining car. She retires around one a.m., is up with the dawn. It's only Max, our Pullman porter. Real warmth seeps into my skin again.
Max. He's not the blackest of the lot, he's a sweet rum color, but plenty black enough to play this godforsaken gig. His eyes are wide set, an amber tone below philosophical brows, and he has large hands I figure ought to be playing music someplace daylight never visits. Maybe thirty years old. He sells phonograph records on the side to the travelers, and I bought one. "Crazy Blues" by Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds. Max was tickled to pieces-hell, he'd have put on a parade if I'd admitted I'd seen Mamie play live. But the purchase was enough. Small things like that make people cotton to you.
I'm tempted to say, Call me Alice, but they don't do that sort of thing on Pullman trains. In fact, I'm meant to call him George, after George Pullman, because George Pullman is the type so steeped in Christian humility that he orders all the Negroes on his trains renamed George. Bet he could charm the skin off a tomato in person.
"Hullo, Max. Here for the trapeze act?"
Then I wink at him. It feels a bit less like dying on a train car.
Anyway, Max is safe. He has a purebred Brooklyn accent, and we picked him up in Chicago at the transfer, which is how I figure he's so musical. Hell of a sideline record stock he displayed for a fellow who fluffs pillows. I like the version of Nobody I can be with Max. She claims to be an easygoing flapper on the run from a dreadfully cruel gentleman caller, Yonkers born, midlevel typist, interested in jazz but doesn't know much yet. Likes the Greenwich speakeasies that look like tearooms. Terribly droll those, likes to chew the fat about the latest plays over Darjeeling spiked with bootleg rum. Likes cats. That sort.
"'Scuse me for saying so, but you're looking real poorly, Miss James." Max glances behind himself.
"Well, I'm in Oregon, you see."
He exposes the glint of a flask in his pocket.
"Oh God," I gasp. The pain flares up again, rich and real. "Name your price."
"Take it easy," he says quietly. "Settle down and have a snort on the house."
Angels sing faint arias. I don't dawdle over finding out what it is before I guzzle the stuff. Good corn liquor, not the best but not cheap hooch either, small-batch operation. Pure Midwestern moonshine. The drink cuts a rug through my veins.
"Beg pardon, but this louse hurt you real bad, didn't he, Miss James?" Max's genuine frown sticks me right in the chest.
Well, yes, Nicolo Benenati shot a small-caliber bullet that grazed my torso like a neat little sewing stitch, out the other side, so it was more of a lark than it could have been, and I got the wound to stop bleeding a few hours afterward, happy day.
Hissing, I force my eyes shut until I'm less set on weeping all over Max, because it simply will not do. I like him. I like him awfully. I like his smooth brown lips and his wise-guy jabs and the way his eyelashes fan. I like his quiet magnetism. I like how he reminds me of someone.
Your nickname is Nobody, remember. Nobody at all.
"The trapeze act isn't very cheery tonight," I admit.
"Aw, look, there's a doctor over in car three, and we can-"
"Why's that, miss?"
"Because this is very silly nonsense, just an attack of nerves, probably, touch of stomachache, and I'm being a wretched little idiot. How long until Portland?"
"We'll be there before dawn."
"You're a dear."
"When we pull in," I think Max says, his vowels thick and strong as big city blocks, "you're coming with me, all right? I know a girl what don't fancy a regular-type doctor when I see one. You'll be just fine, Miss James. I'm gonna make sure."
Nobody the sweet flapper would answer him, I think, but by now I live in a different world than he does, a seasick haze of nothing at all.
When I wake up, my bunkmate has returned. Looking dreadfully hopeful of conversation, and here IÕm fresh out of the stuff. And probably about to lose consciousness again.
"Oh, Miss James, you are pale. Should I fetch you some ginger ale?"
Hearing Mrs. Muriel Snider speak, I reflect, is better than being shot. But not by a terribly wide margin.
"You're so kind, but I couldn't possibly put you to the trouble." I offer her a shy smile.
Really, I've been doing a crackerjack job at not looking agonized.
Mrs. Muriel Snider has a face that makes me figure God took His inspiration from a potato. She's sedately dressed in a brown traveling suit when she isn't sedately dressed in a nightgown, and I'd wager that she's sedately dressed in a bathing costume when taking a bath. The Nobody I am with her is fluttery and inexperienced, hinted she met with an embarrassing riding accident, devoutly Protestant, anxious whether she's authoritative enough when giving her piano lessons, thinks grape juice should be served at all religious services including the Jewish ones, embarrassed to be unmarried. Knitter. That sort.
Thankfully, after stanching the bleeding left by the slug, I wore my most invisible duds. So she can't fault this Nobody for being in the wrong clothes. It's a below-the-knee skirt and a belted jacket in quiet shepherd check. And my honey-blond hair is bobbed, but long enough I can pin it so no one notices.
"Anyhow, we're almost there, I hope?"
She checks her watch. "Oh, yes, dear. Are you sure you don't want me to bring you some hot milk, perhaps? I wouldn't trust this George of ours to get the temperature right."
Smiling again, I picture round after round from a tommy gun shattering her skull, smash-crack, blood soaring like a startled flock of redbirds.
It isn't like me. I'm not violent. But I'm in an awfully bad mood.
"This late, it'll only upset my digestion, I fear."
"Heavens, yes, I never noticed how long I was gone, for the kindest Presbyterian minister and his new wife were in the dining car-she's already expecting just before their first anniversary, and I was fit to bursting with happiness for them! And with the amount of advice I have to offer, having raised six of my own alongside Fred? The poor young dear simply peppered me with questions."
She removes her jewelry, puts it carefully in her handbag, and sniffs as she locks the satchel, placing it behind her pillow. The lengths I go to ignore her are positively transcontinental.
"You're such a comfort, you know, Miss James. Forgive me for being this direct, but so many young women have abandoned the ideals of motherhood and child-rearing. Anyhow, I wanted to tell you that I trust in you, truly, to find a proper mate. It's nothing to be ashamed of, dear, being a tad plain, a bit forgettable. That requires moral courage, you know, and someday the right man will take notice. Just you trust in God and in His timing."
The genuine smile that pools over my face pleases her. I'm recalling sitting at the Tobacco Club with Mr. Salvatici, wearing a House of Worth gown. It plunged in great V's down my chest and my back, neckline bordered in a thick stripe of golden beadwork that made my carefully curled hair gleam like Broadway at midnight. The loose bodice fell in pale sea-breeze greens and blues, dripping sequined bubbles into an underskirt of aqua tulle, and when I threw back my head and laughed from heavily rouged lips, only six or seven hundred people that night looked at me at all.
If I'd wanted to get storked, I could have done it when I was seventeen. I wear a rubber womb veil, thank you-all the fast girls do, and the careless ones have been more than once to the lady doctor who solves their problems. She takes a vacation every Christmas to shore up her energies for the post-New Year's stampede. No kidding. A lot has changed since the War. Since Prohibition.
Since six days ago.
If I must die, let it be in a city. Nobody dead nowhere is too much punishment. So let it be in Portland, I decide, wondering how far I can make it until dissolving into ocean foam like some mermaids of note who weren't loved in return either.
When we arrive, itÕs still dark.
Clash-ring. Grate-scrape. Whistle blast.
Now my head is pounding, and I dread what happens next with all that's left of my heart.
Here's mud in your eye.
Sitting up, I use my arms mainly, and I don't shriek over the sensation. Markedly unpleasant though it is.
"Well, you simply must contact me when you're feeling better, Miss James," Mrs. Snider fusses. "I think we could be great friends despite the difference in our ages. My husband, Fred, is a member of the Arlington Club, and you seem of such good stock, I imagine he must know your parents already. Which is their congregation?"
"Oh . . . my parents are poor farmers some sixty miles outside the city. I send them whatever I can from my own income as a music teacher. In fact, I'm still very new to Portland. I miss them, and the farm, just . . . just terribly."
When she raises her eyebrows, it's as if a cardboard box lifted its lid. "You dear, sweet soul. Please look me up-the right connections mean everything. And there are a great many young bachelor gentlemen of our acquaintance with sober and pleasing ways! Here is my card-"
As I'm taking it, resenting the extra weight of carrying so much as her printed name, a polite knock sounds.
By now my pulse is too feeble to blaze up into genuine panic and gives a flicker of dismay instead. But it's Max again. He's wearing a chocolate-brown hat that suits his lighter complexion and a beige trench that matches the pale leather of his luggage. His eyes dart, identify the olive coat I'd hung and forgotten, and he snatches it up, draping it respectfully over my shoulders.
Excerpted from "The Paragon Hotel"
Copyright © 2019 Lyndsay Faye.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Disclosure: I received a review book from the publisher in exchange for a honest review. I am embarrassed to admit that I have neither heard nor read anything by Faye until I was pitched The Paragon Hotel. Per my reading record and taste, The Paragon Hotel would seem like the odd book out. What my dear blog readers don’t know is that I adore all things history, and though I may not read many historical novels, I am utterly fascinated by the subject. And the 1920s Prohibition era is one of my favorite periods. Faye transports readers back in time to the turn of the twentieth century pinging back and forth from the past to present, from 1857 Harlem, New York to 1933 Portland, Oregon. The Paragon Hotel highlights the beauty and tragedy of the time period. It explores the prevalent racism, discrimination, inequality, and violence subjugated by people of color in Oregon and immigrants in Harlem. But not everything was dark and ugly…it also showed that despite everything that happens in the world, real love, friendship and family knows no color or gender. It takes extraordinary talent to capture any time period. Not only did Faye succeeded in bringing the prohibition and segregation era to life, she did it beautifully and authentically; from the minute detail of the setting, the characters, the locations chosen to its vernacular while penning a compelling story with characters worth caring for. When one thinks of the prohibition era, one tends to conjure up images of speakeasies, mafia, drugs, booze and violence. And The Paragon Hotel has all that but from the perspective of a woman…which has never been done before in literature, at least none that I’ve seen. It was very intriguing. But Faye doesn’t stop there. She goes the extra hundred miles and adds another female perspective, specifically an African-American woman to show racism in America during the early 1900s. The Paragon Hotel took me for an emotional roller-coaster. I was in awe and in shock. My emotions were all over the place; feeling anger, happiness, anxious and sadness. In for a penny, in for a pound, Faye holds nothing back. She shines a big bright spotlight on America’s darkest past but does it in a way that doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. This may sound odd but as dark as the subject matter was and it was extremely dark and violent; Faye incorporated humor perfectly for which I am a grateful for, so the book wasn’t completely grim. Let’s just say I laughed and smiled far more than I should or thought I would have. The balance of suspense, mystery, action and humor blended seamlessly. The two women at the the forefront of the novel were indomitable, strong, and atypical heroines. During this time women were believed to be better suited at home and in the kitchen. Yet Faye created these amazing characters, these women that showed us that women were more than capable of taking care of themselves, can do anything they set their mind to and are equal if not better than their male counterparts. I loved Alice/Nobody and Blossom. From the first page of the novel, I was smitten with Alice/Nobody. Anyone that can be calm, collected and somewhat joke after being shot is a sure keeper. I initially thought that Alice, with a background of working with the Mafia would be just as ruthless and calculated as her boss, so it was a wonderful surprise to see how caring and thoughtful she was. One of Alice’s many talent is being able to transform into any character she needs to be…whe
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Don't miss this book. Lyndsay Faye writes incredibly life-like and complex characters, Their motives are never just what's on the surface, and they are always very human - never just black and white. I loved this book particularly because of the dual story line. As the book progresses we get the flashbacks of how "Nobody" Alice James came to be at the Paragon Hotel, alongside the ongoing story of the Paragon's inhabitants. The historical setting of this book is rich and immersive, and the race issues of the time period fully incorporated. Nobody Alice has spent her life learning to be whatever Nobody the situation demands. Most of that education falling under service to one of the most notorious mafia bosses in Harlem. Bleeding and delirious, Alice finds herself on an impromptu flight from "la malavita" in Harlem, and from those sure to pursue her if they find out she's alive. She finds herself racing cross-country in a Pullman Car juggling Nobodies between the demure and conservative Alice she portrays to her bunkmate, and the slightly more "flapper-esque" Nobody she reveals to the Porter, who can't bear to leave her stranded at the journey's end. Thus Alice comes to be the latest (and only white) resident of the Paragon Hotel. Not for the first timhttps://www.netgalley.com/member/shelfe, Alice sees life from the side of those facing persecution for their color and culture, but finds herself uniquely in a position to help when the Paragon's youngest resident and communal charge, Davie, goes missing. Up against the Ku Klux Klan, the police (both good and bad), and the tight-lipped and motley residents of the Paragon, Alice has to juggle enough Nobodies to get to the bottom of Davie's disappearance. Along the way, she'll uncover more secrets than she wanted to know, and discover more about the real Alice James than she thought possible. With characters ranging from a nightclub singer and an aspiring writer, to a war vet and a society matron, every reader will identify with Faye's cast. I recommend this story to any readers of historical fiction, and Faye's writing to anyone who needs a book that goes a little deeper, a little beyond the ordinary expectations. There are some sensitive topics in the book, but no illicit descriptions.
The Paragon Hotel follows the story of Alice James, a young woman brought up during the Prohibition era in Harlem. Through a series of life-altering events, she finds herself in Portland, Oregon at the Paragon Hotel. Here, she struggles with reminders of her past while she becomes involved in the lives of the employees at the hotel, Portland’s only all African-American establishment. When the employees’ “adopted” orphan son, Davy Lee, goes missing, Alice must unravel mysteries of his whereabouts while racial tensions escalate. The novel is written with two storylines, one in the late 1920’s and one several years earlier, that weave in and out as the book progresses. Both storylines were interesting and kept my attention, which doesn’t always happen with dual storyline books. The characters were well described and the settings were detailed enough to lend the sense of being immersed in the era of the book. I have to admit that I liked the character of Blossom and her situation more than that of the main character. If the book had taken more of a focus on her I would have given this a five star. Overall, I did really like the book and enjoyed the read. I received this book as a free advanced copy from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
As I write this, there are only two other reviews of The Paragon Hotel so far on B & N, both of which both gave it 5 stars. I'm afraid mine is gonna be a downer. I will preface this by saying I disliked it so much that I never made it all the way to the end, so no spoilers here. I'm sure lots of people like this kind of descriptive writing; I do not. It is so-over-the-top superfluous as to eventually become exhausting. My writing teachers at U of M always emphasized the important of using as few words as possible to give the most stunning, spot on descriptions. It's a skill few authors can master and that's the problem here. Lots of fluff and drawn out descriptive writing doesn't work for me. The plot was quite good, but trying to plow through the writing to find out what happened was just too much for me. But, if you are a patient reader, you may like it.