The murder of Judge Hugo Jackson is out of Detective Simon Ziele's jurisdiction in more ways than one. For one, its high-profile enough to command the attention of the police commissioner. The judge was presiding over the trial of Al Drayson, an anarchist, who set off a bomb at a Carnegie wedding, but instead of killing millionaires, it killed passersby, including a child. The trial has captured the attention of 1906 New York City.
Furthermore, Simon's precinct doesn't include Gramercy Park, which is where the judge is found in his town house with his throat slashed. But his widow insists on calling her husband's old classmate criminologist, Alistair Sinclair, who in turn enlists Ziele. Together they must steer Sinclair's methods past a police force that is focused on rounding up Drayson's supporters and have all but rejected any other possibilities.
Edgar Award–winning author Stefanie Pintoff's combination of a fascinating case and the sometimes-brutal and sometimes-glittering history of turn-of-the-century New York in this stellar historical makes Secret of the White Rose an utterly compelling read.
About the Author
Stefanie Pintoff is the author of A Curtain Falls and In the Shadow of Gothamthe winner of the 2010 Edgar Award for Best First Novel and the Washington Irving Book Award. She earned nominations for the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She is also a graduate of Columbia University Law School and has a Ph.D. in literature from New York University. She lives with her husband and daughter on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
Read an Excerpt
Secret of the White Rose
By Stefanie Pintoff
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 Stefanie Pintoff
All rights reserved.
171 West Seventy-first Street. 1:30 A.M.
Despite my best intentions — not to mention an excellent cup of French roast — I had fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion. Lying on a gold and green paisley sofa, halfway through W. D. Morrison's treatise Crime and Its Causes, I was startled awake by a ferocious pounding at my door. I bolted upright — causing Morrison to tumble to the ground, followed by my now empty coffee mug.
I fumbled for my battered pocket watch. Half past one. At such an ungodly hour, most people would telephone. Thanks to the modern black and brass Strowger dial telephone installed in my new quarters here last month, I could be reached at any hour. That was a mixed blessing, of course — but I'd already come to appreciate the telephone as a more civilized method of interruption than the incessant knocking that disturbed me now.
Why the devil was someone determined to wake me in person?
I walked barefoot to the door over newly varnished hardwood that was cold and smooth against my feet. As I drew close, the pounding stopped, but an urgent voice called out my name.
"Ziele! Open up."
I turned the lock and withdrew the chain. By the flickering light of the gaslight lanterns that lined my hallway, I recognized my friend and colleague: criminologist Alistair Sinclair.
The normally poised and garrulous professor staggered into my living room, collapsed onto my paisley sofa, and looked up at me helplessly. "Ziele, I need your help." He managed to rasp the words, before he succumbed to a fit of coughing.
"What's happened?" After I closed and locked my door, I lit the additional oil lamps in my living room, then surveyed Alistair closely for signs of an injury. I saw none.
Not once in our acquaintance had I ever seen Alistair in such a state. His dark hair, heavily lined with silver, was not smoothly coiffed; rather, it stood up on end as though he had run his hands through it repeatedly. His expensive cashmere-blend coat was torn at the sleeve and splattered with mud. But most disturbing was the blank expression in his blue eyes when he looked at me. Clear as ice, and always too cold for warmth, his eyes normally blazed with intelligence — yet tonight all I saw was emptiness.
I brought him a glass of water. He accepted, saying nothing.
The lanterns flickered, the result of a draft that perpetually ran through the room, and I pulled my dressing gown tighter. Then I sat in the overstuffed green armchair opposite Alistair.
My professional demeanor was carefully practiced for times such as these, so my voice was calm when I asked him what had happened. But my manner belied my deep private concern — for whatever had undone his usual composure had to be significant. My immediate worry centered upon Isabella, Alistair's widowed daughter-in-law who assisted him in his research into the criminal mind — and who preoccupied more of my own thoughts than I usually cared to admit.
"A man was murdered tonight," he finally managed to say. "Someone I once counted among my closest friends."
"I'm sorry," I said, and meant it.
We were silent for several moments while he composed himself.
"Who was he?"
"Hugo Jackson. He'd gone to Harvard Law with me, class of 'seventy-seven." With a quick, wistful smile, he added, "We'd not spoken in years, but we were close once. In fact, he was the best man at my wedding."
"You had a falling-out?"
He shook his head. "Nothing like that. We simply drifted apart. We made different friends, developed varying interests, saw each other less often ..."
"You're certain it was murder?" Now wide awake, I crossed my arms and regarded him soberly.
"Without a doubt. His throat was slashed from ear to ear."
"If you weren't close, why are you among the first to know?" A long-ago relationship of the sort he described wouldn't merit his involvement. Or explain why he was so broken up about it.
"Our wives had developed a friendship that lasted through the years, even as our own waned. In part, that's why Mrs. Jackson called me immediately."
"And the other part?" I asked, knowing that what Alistair didn't say was usually more important than what he did.
"There were unusual circumstances." Alistair lowered his voice instinctively, though no one was here but us. "Mrs. Jackson found him in the library, slumped over his desk in a pool of blood." He frowned and grew silent, lost in some thought of his own.
"Go on," I urged.
He passed me his water glass. "You don't have a stiff drink, do you, Ziele? Something to buck up our strength?"
All I had was the Talisker single-malt scotch that Alistair himself had given me for my birthday last summer — a souvenir from a recent trip to Scotland's Isle of Skye. I poured him a generous glass, neat, then waited for him to continue.
He swirled the tawny mixture, seemingly more content to smell its earthy essence than to drink it.
"There was a Bible next to his body — not the family Bible but one his wife had never seen before. And my friend's right hand was resting on top of it," he said at last.
I tried to envision the scene as Alistair described it. "Like the way you take an oath in court?"
He nodded, adding, "My friend was a judge."
"But don't judges usually administer oaths, not take them?"
"Exactly." He gave me a meaningful look. "And, given it was a Bible unfamiliar to his wife, we might presume his killer brought it with him to the crime scene."
His hand trembled, forcing him to put his drink on the table.
I leaned in closer, more concerned now. I'd never seen him so shaken up.
"We are," I reminded him, "discussing a crime scene neither one of us has actually seen. But you already believe it signifies something of importance?"
"What do you think, Ziele?" he said, bursting out with an exasperation suffused with grief. "Have I done nothing this past year to convince you of the importance of crime scene behavior?"
He was right: it had been nearly a year since the Fromley case, when he first waltzed into my office and announced that he could use his knowledge of the criminal mind to help me solve a brutal murder. He had not been entirely correct, of course. But as he himself would say, knowing the criminal mind is as much an art as it is a science — and I never doubted that he understood more about criminal behavior than I ever expected to.
He shook his head. "There's more: a single, white rose was placed next to his hand."
"A white rose? Like a bride's?"
He nodded sagely. "I know. Hard to come by this time of year."
"The color of purity, innocence," I added, thinking of brides I had seen with such roses on their wedding day.
"Sometimes it is." He paused. "Other times, it's the color of death — usually associated with betrayal. During the War of the Roses, a white rose was given to traitors who had betrayed their word. It warned them that death was imminent."
"So you think —"
He cut me off. "I don't know what to think. But I want you involved."
"Where was Judge Jackson killed?" I glanced at him with skepticism.
"Gramercy Park West."
"That's in the Thirteenth Precinct; not my jurisdiction." I was now working as a detective under my longtime friend Captain Mulvaney of the Nineteenth Precinct.
"I've seen you help out other precincts."
"This new commissioner is a stickler for protocol." Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham didn't want officers straying beyond their jurisdiction, absent specific orders from him.
"I can make the necessary connections," Alistair said, getting up and crossing the room toward my Strowger telephone. "May I call a cab?"
He picked up the receiver and spoke into it. "Operator, yes, telephone twenty-three eighty Columbus, please."
While he waited for the connection to be made, he spoke to me again. "My friend was an eminent man. Your police will be under significant pressure to solve his murder quickly."
I was obviously going to have to accompany him downtown. I got up and started toward my bedroom to get dressed. But his mention of the police brass triggered something in my memory. "What did you say this judge's name was?"
"Jackson. Judge Hugo Jackson."
My brow furrowed as the name he had just mentioned stirred a flicker of recognition. The name registered, and I spun back around toward Alistair. "Not the same judge who is hearing the Drayson case?"
"Of course." Alistair held up a finger as he spoke into the telephone once again. "New York Transportation? Yes, I need an electric automobile at Seventy-first and Broadway, please." He then hung up, grim-faced as he turned back toward me. "The jury was to have begun deliberations today. Now? There's a strong chance a mistrial will be declared."
That changed everything. The death — the murder, even — of the judge presiding over the most controversial trial the city had seen in years would set off the worst unrest imaginable.
Like everyone, I had been following the trial with great interest — more so because I'd known men like Al Drayson. They grew and flourished in my native Lower East Side neighborhood, where new immigrants weary of hardships in their adopted country were sympathetic to those who championed their rights. Most were idealists who wanted only better working and living conditions.
But I'd seen the way some men's eyes fired with passion when they discussed their cause, lit with an enthusiasm I could not comprehend. Not when their talk turned to guns and dynamite. Not when they showed no regard for the human lives they destroyed. It made no sense to fight one injustice by creating another. I understood the devotion and sacrifice men might feel for another human soul.
In my experience, even the loftiest ideals were often twisted for individual profit and ambition.
Real good rarely came of it. The worst sort of evil often did.CHAPTER 2
I dressed in haste, gathering those supplies I brought to every crime scene — a notepad, pencil, and cotton gloves to protect anything I touched from my own fingerprints. We waited at my second-floor apartment window overlooking West Seventy-first Street until the electric cab pulled up in front of my building. We hustled down the stairs, through my courtyard, and into the cab itself — where we settled onto black leather seats. Alistair was in no condition to drive his own car, but his choice of an electric cab rather than one of the new, faster gasoline cabs seemed an unnecessary extravagance. Alistair swore that they were more reliable, and no doubt they appealed to his luxurious tastes. For my part, I considered them impractical and slow-moving, given their eight-hundred-pound batteries. The subway was my preference — where a five-cent ticket carried me uptown or downtown, faster than any other mode of transportation.
Alistair gave the driver an address in Gramercy Park, and we were whisked south along the Boulevard — which was how most people still referred to the part of Broadway north of Columbus Circle. The streets were deserted, and wrought-iron gaslights cast murky shadows against buildings that still slept. I liked this part of the city — the Upper West Side — where row houses and apartment buildings were springing up as fast as architects could design and build them. While the construction had its drawbacks, on the whole I liked being part of a neighborhood that was constantly changing. My own sublet apartment on West Seventy-first and Broadway was among them, built just two years ago. Normally I'd never be able to afford a one-bedroom in a new luxury building on a detective's salary. But a friend of Alistair's had moved unexpectedly abroad and wanted his apartment cared for in his absence: I'd be doing him a favor, or so he'd said. I wasn't sure about that, but I'd moved in the third week of August and returned to my career as a detective in the Nineteenth Precinct, which my former partner Declan Mulvaney now commanded. And so — after two years in Dobson, a small village just north of the city where I'd enjoyed a respite from the city's corruption and violence — I once again called the island of Manhattan home.
Alistair sat beside me, silent and preoccupied as our cab continued downtown. We passed through the Theater District in the west Forties, where along the Great White Way electric billboards made the streets shine bright as day — even at this wee hour of the morning. It was also the site of Alistair's and my most recent case together, when last spring a deranged killer had targeted beautiful young actresses. I had always enjoyed the theater on the rare occasions I could afford it, but I had not yet returned to a show. The Broadway murders had — at least temporarily — impaired my appreciation of the stage.
Faster than I had expected, the driver turned left onto West Twenty-third Street and we drew closer to Gramercy. The area swarmed with police officers, but the driver pulled as close as he could manage to the western edge of Gramercy Park. Alistair paid the exorbitant six-dollar fare.
The judge's home at 3 Gramercy Park West was typical of all those surrounding the park: a four-story red-brick town house surrounded by a two-and-a-half-foot wrought-iron fence. I immediately recognized men not just from the Seventeenth Precinct but also the Thirteenth and the Eighth.
I also recognized a reed-thin man with graying hair and hunched shoulders who hung back from the crowd. "Harvey," I said, "good to see you again."
He started in surprise but then broke into a smile and reached out to pump my hand. "Ziele. I heard you were back in the city. But you're with the Nineteenth now, right? Have you guys been called in on this one, too? It's chaos. Seems like the mayor's got every detective in the city working this case." He indicated the men in blue spilling out into the street.
I managed to say something noncommittal before I briefly introduced Alistair and asked, "Who's in charge? Not the General himself?"
Harvey shook his head and flashed a grin. "We got lucky: he's out of town, in Boston with the missus. Though I'd say the judge's murder will scuttle his plans and bring him home early." He nodded toward the commotion indoors. "Meanwhile, Saunders is running the scene."
Learning of Saunders's presence I breathed a sigh of relief. "The General" was Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham himself, a former military man who had brought forthrightness to his job — but also a stubborn belief that he alone knew the right answers. He had been commissioner for almost a year and was already deeply unpopular within the ranks. I had not yet crossed paths with the city's top police official, but I could not imagine he would be pleased to discover an ordinary detective attempting to insert himself into an investigation. Grandstanding, he'd call it — and not one of Alistair's connections would be sufficient to salvage my reputation.
Alistair brightened upon hearing the name. "Do you mean Deputy John Saunders?"
After Harvey confirmed it, Alistair explained how he had met Saunders, one of the comissioner's many deputies, earlier this year when he was in meetings at police headquarters. "Like me, he's interested in how new methods can help combat violent crime. I've suggested several ways they might incorporate my own research into their efforts."
I knew that the top brass had so far responded to Alistair's proposals with skepticism at best, and sheer mockery at worst. Most policemen, myself included, were not averse to trying new techniques that had been shown to work reliably in the field. But most of Alistair's ideas were textbook only — untested and untried.
I watched Alistair hesitate for just a moment at the door's threshold. Then he set his shoulders and walked squarely into the home of his old friend. I followed him through the foyer toward the library at the rear of the first floor where a cluster of men, Deputy Saunders among them, waited somberly just outside the door. The reason why was immediately apparent: two junior officers emerged from the room bearing a wooden gurney on which, covered by a thick white sheet, was a large form we knew to be the judge. We watched in silence as he was carried from his home for the last time.
Excerpted from Secret of the White Rose by Stefanie Pintoff. Copyright © 2011 Stefanie Pintoff. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Reading Group Guide
1. In Secret of the White Rose, how is the anarchist movement depicted in both positive and negative viewpoints? The portrayal of the anarchists is necessarily limited by the first-person POV of Detective Ziele, himself a policeman. Is he fair-minded? Or does he reflect the prejudices one might expect from a person of his class and profession? (From the Haymarket Riots in Chicago in 1886 to the Union Square bombing in New York City in 1908, policemen were frequent targets of anarchist violence.)
2. This novel depicts a New York that is in the midst of social upheaval. Discuss the role of class in the novel, particularly Simon Ziele's feelings returning to his old neighborhood and reuniting with the Strupp family. How do his own ambitions, not to mention his attraction to the world Alistair and Isabella inhabit, play into it?
3. The story takes place during a time of rapid technological change and progress. What are some of the innovations represented? How do they have both a good and bad impact on society?
4. How does the relationship between Simon and Isabella change in this novel? In spite of the class differences - which are a major obstacle in 1906 - do you believe there's any possibility for a real relationship between them? Likewise, the relationship between Detective Ziele and Alistair Sinclair evolves significantly in this novel. Does it ever approach an equal partnership?
5. "Duty" is a theme that plays out in the book through many different characters, from Judge Jackson in the beginning, to Ziele, to Alistair and others. How does each characters' conception of duty shape their actions?
6. At the beginning of part two, the author chooses quotations by President Teddy Roosevelt and Alexander Berkman to introduce the section. What does each signify?
7. If you had been in Ziele's position at the end of the novel, would you have helped Jonathan Strupp? Why or why not?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I've read all three of the Detective Ziele books now and I am anxiously awaiting the next installment. It took me a bit longer than I thought it would to get into and finish the first (Under the Shadow of Gotham), but by the time I was finished I couldn't understand why. All three of her stories are amazing, the details are incredible and unobtrusive. She gives you the history of NYC in a totally enjoyable way. I am really looking forward to reading more by this author. Although, I would really like to see a longer book. Each one averages about 260 pages. I really think her stories could support more pages and detail. Regardless... I do recommend this...
In 1906, New York City residents and much of the country remain riveted to the trial of anarchist Al Drayson. The accused allegedly planted a bomb to kill industrialist Andrew Carnegie, but instead murdered five other people. Criminologist Alistair Sinclair wakes up Detective Simon Ziele with a shocker. An unknown assassin sliced the throat of Judge Hugo Jackson, presiding over the Drayson homicide trial. The killer left behind a Bible and a white rose. Sinclair tells Ziele that Jackson was a long time friend, but the cop believes his crony conceals something important from him. While the NYPD commissioner and the brass insist an anarchist murdered the judge, Ziele thinks it is too soon to rule other possible killers even as the murderer strikes several times since giving Jackson a necktie. Mindful of the Gaslight mysteries by Victoria Thomson, the third Ziele-Sinclair police procedural (see In the Shadow of Gotham and A Curtain Falls) is a super historical whodunit. The investigation is exciting and fast-paced as the killers keeps striking while the two sleuths struggle to end the murdering spree. Yet with an excellent whodunit, it is the feeling that we armchair readers are in New York at the beginning of the twentieth century that makes the Secret of the White Rose a terrific thriller. Harriet Klausner
So glad to find a new author who knows how to weave period details (the setting sizzles with atmosphere) and divertingly interesting characters. Haven't read the first two with the main protagonist, but certainly look forward to doing so, and to future installments!
If you read this go to the next result, please. *Autumnstar*
Pintoff's characters are both well-rounded and believable. Historical accurateness adds to a well-paced and exciting plot that does not stop until the past page is turned. The other Simon Zeiele tites in the series are Im the Shadow of Gotham (Edgar award winner) and A Curtain Falls. Writing at its best! Lisa