Traversing back in time to New York City circa the late nineteenth century, Clifford Browder’s The Eye That Never Sleeps poses a decidedly brilliant take on the historical crime thriller with an enticingly twisted narrative that brings together history, mystery, and masterfully fleshed out characters.
A growing mystery is afoot in the expanding metropolis of 1869 New York City when three banks are robbed within a nine-month period. Of particular concern is the robbery of the Bank of Trade which is considered the heist of the century. Moreover, the thief has the gall to brag about the robberies by way of sending to the president of each bank gloating rhyming verses and a key to the bank within days of the wake of each masterminded robbery.
Meanwhile, unfortunately for the bankers, the police department has been overwhelmed by the heavy caseloads of other criminal investigations which leaves the city’s bankers in growing desperation. Looking for answers, they turn to private operative/ detective Sheldon Minick who agrees to take on the case for a substantial retainer which enables the financially strapped detective to pay bills and bring meat to his table.
An intriguing character from the start, Minick comes across as reserved and intelligent, but odd, as he not only enjoys baffling the criminals he chases, but his clients as well. Also, a master of disguise, he manages to successfully infiltrate the infamous Thieves Ball previously found impenetrable by police to mete out potential suspects. It is there at the ball, that Sheldon Minick encounters Slick Nick Prime aka Nicholas Hale, master cracksman and a bragging dandy whose wealth and wile allows him to answer to his proclivities at his whim.
Consequently, the thrills ensue as these two complex characters are brought together in a thrilling game of entanglement and wits with the intimate perspectives of both men’s psyche and lifestyles exposed. As a result, the vastly different character’s lives are lensed through the eye-opening details of the history, politics, and personalities of the era with particular attention to the division of quality of life, ultimately providing a compelling look at the wealthy and privileged life of the criminal Hale versus the poor but good guy Minick.
Altogether, I really enjoyed The Eye That Never Sleeps. I relished in being immersed in a story that captured the reality of that era in early New York history, especially being a New Yorker myself. I do highly recommend this book. It was a worthy read that was simultaneously informative, compelling and entertaining.