Rumor has it that President Lincoln's new conscription laws are going into effect. Irish immigrants learn that a rich man can buy his way out for $300, and they will be drafted into the worst "urban conflagration in American history." The New York Draft Riots begin.
In Paradise Alley in lower Manhattan, three women wait out the five-day rebellion. Dierdre Dolan, learning that her husband's been wounded at Gettysburg, turns to Ruth Dove for comfort. But Ruth is worried that her ex-slave husband has been lynched by an angry mob. Maddy Boyle's lover, Herbert Robinson, is out covering the riots for the newspaper.
To add to the fear, Dangerous Jimmy Dolan, Dierdre's brother, who's been gone 14 years after being charged with murder, has returned and is looking for Ruth. Long ago, he saved Ruth from starvation and paid her passage to America. He wants the "treasure" he believes she has.
As chaos erupts in the city, the women draw strength from one another to survive the perilous conditions.
This follow-up to Dreamland continues Baker's erudite, action-packed and well-researched history of New York. Filled with graphic and often terrifying accounts of the riots, each chapter is told by a different character—the three women, a reporter, a fireman and an army private—giving us many viewpoints on the situation.
Baker touches raw emotion with fascinating historical details, realistic drama and multidimensional characters. (Oct., 688 pp., $26.95)