My son and I headed to Maplewood today with Words bookstore as our main destination. First, however, we had to have lunch down the street (grilled cheese and the “basic Panini”), where the woman behind us in line (“Just a mocha, please”) had rested her paperback on the counter in front of us. She was happy to tell me about the book:
“It’s about Irish immigrants in New York, set in the 1800s around the time of the potato famine. They went through a lot,” she explained solemnly. She also told me that she is a big fan of anything about New York City. She grew up, however, in South Dakota, which might explain why she was so nice.
On Amazon, the book has excellent user ratings: 4 1/2 stars out of 5. Based on the description of the book, however, it’s rather grim and gruesome: it follows a bartender who joins the newly-formed NYPD and encounters violence inspired by anti-Irish sentiment. Based on the reviews, the book is well-researched but this also weighs it down with too much unnecessary detail (as a two-star reviewer put it, “ham-fisted use of excellent research”).
An interesting tidbit I picked up from the reviews: popular among certain (lower class) circles in New York during the mid-19th century was a slang called “flash.” Melville described the dialect in his novel Pierre as “the foulest of all human lingos, the dialect of sin and death.” In case you’re curious to see if any of the foul lingo survived, the 1859 Vocabulum of the NYPD’s chief of police is also available on Google books; it’s a gapeseed worth a tout. Here are some examples:
ace of spades = a widow
alamort = struck dumb, unable to say anything
bingo-boy = a drunk man
bingo-mort = a drunk woman
birthday suit = naked
dimber mort = a pretty girl
flimp = to wrestle