The Paragon Hotel
by Lyndsay Faye
Expected publication date: January 8, 2019, by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
From Goodreads: The new and exciting historical thriller by Lyndsay Faye, author of Edgar-nominated Jane Steele and Gods of Gotham, which follows Alice “Nobody” from Prohibition-era Harlem to Portland’s the Paragon Hotel.
The year is 1921, and “Nobody” Alice James is on a cross-country train, carrying a bullet wound and fleeing for her life following an illicit drug and liquor deal gone horribly wrong. Desperate to get as far away as possible from New York City and those who want her dead, she has her sights set on Oregon: a distant frontier that seems the end of the line.
She befriends Max, a black Pullman porter who reminds her achingly of Harlem, who leads Alice to the Paragon Hotel upon arrival in Portland. Her unlikely sanctuary turns out to be the only all-black hotel in the city, and its lodgers seem unduly terrified of a white woman on the premises. But as she meets the churlish Dr. Pendleton, the stately Mavereen, and the unforgettable club chanteuse Blossom Fontaine, she begins to understand the reason for their dread. The Ku Klux Klan has arrived in Portland in fearful numbers–burning crosses, inciting violence, electing officials, and brutalizing blacks. And only Alice, along with her new “family” of Paragon residents, are willing to search for a missing mulatto child who has mysteriously vanished into the Oregon woods.
Why was “Nobody” Alice James forced to escape Harlem? Why do the Paragon’s denizens live in fear–and what other sins are they hiding? Where did the orphaned child who went missing from the hotel, Davy Lee, come from in the first place? And, perhaps most important, why does Blossom Fontaine seem to be at the very center of this tangled web?
I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Lyndsay Faye, and The Paragon Hotel was no exception. Regardless of what era her stories are set in, Faye manages to capture the essence of the age both in atmosphere and dialogue.
The story of The Paragon Hotel begins on a train to Portland, Oregon. Alice “Nobody” James was shot in New York City under mysterious circumstances and is running for her life as far away as she can go. She meets Max, a porter on the train, who sees the danger she’s in despite her attempts to hide it, and though it’s all-advised on both their ends he brings her to the Paragon Hotel, the only hotel in Portland that welcomes blacks. What’s the problem with that? Well, it’s 1921. Even on the west coast, there is horrendous racism and the Ku Klux Klan is making inroads in Oregon. All the residents of the Paragon Hotel have to watch their backs, and though they are a tightly knit family, they all have their secrets. Once she finds a bit of security, Alice endeavors to find out more about her new friends and unravel the secrets they keep from each other. When a child living at the hotel disappears, Alice’s quest to decipher the myriad puzzles around her takes on a new urgency.
The story flips back and forth between Alice’s upbringing in turn of the century Harlem, where she, as a Welsh-Italian girl was an outsider trying to survive in neighborhoods run by branches of the Mafia, and Alice’s life at the Paragon Hotel in 1921. Unlike most stories told via flashbacks, these were not annoying breaks in the main story giving the reader extraneous background information that detracts from the story. These flashbacks are just as interesting as the primary story, weaving a tale of love, family, and disillusionment that informs the main plot.
Most mysteries rely on plot twists to take the reader on a roller coaster of a plot-driven read. Faye doesn’t do this. She creates lifelike characters who draw you into her stories and, despite their flaws, are so charismatic that you want to learn more about them. You find yourself drawn in so completely that the twists and turns of their lives and their unveiled secrets come as revelations, not twists meant to shock.
With her lyrical prose, Faye reveals often unpleasant aspects of history that we don’t like to think about, bringing to light harsh truths without beating readers over the head with them. She gets under your skin in the best kind of way, and even though there are some very ugly things she shows you, it is worth the ugliness to find the beauty of her terribly, wonderfully human characters.
Thank you to NetGalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for providing me with a free eBook in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my opinion in any way.