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The sparkling latest in Swerling's historical series (after City of Glory) about the Turner and Devrey families and the growth of New York City takes place in the decades leading up to the Civil War. While in China, merchant Samuel Devrey trades a cache of opium for the beautiful and young Mei-Hua, whom he secretly ensconces in New York and marries. Samuel also marries saintly heiress Carolina Randolph and tries to hold together the two households, though Carolina eventually cools to Samuel's secretiveness and brutish behavior, and begins to return the ardor of Samuel's cousin, Dr. Nicholas Turner. As Nicholas campaigns to improve conditions and fund research at Bellevue Hospital, he's drawn into Samuel's secret life, saving Mei Hua's life after a botched abortion and later delivering her daughter. This highly entertaining novel suffers whenever the villainous Samuel is not on the scene, and though the last hundred pages drop off in intensity, there's still much to commend in Swerling's great eye for detail, convincing and conniving characters, and subplots that really flesh out 19th-century New York. (Dec.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.