It is 1930, and ground has just been broken for the Empire State Building. One of the thousands of men who will come to work high above the city is Michael Briody, an Irish immigrant torn between his desire to make a new life in America and his pledge to gather money and arms for the Irish republican cause. When he meets Grace Masterson, an alluring artist who is depicting the great skyscraper's rise from her houseboat on the East River, Briody's life suddenly turns exhilarating--and dangerous--for Grace is also a paramour of Johnny Farrell, Mayor Jimmy Walker's liaison with Tammany Hall and the underworld. Thomas Kelly
is the author of two previous novels: Payback
, called "the best story about New York's labor unions, corrupt contractors and organized crime since On the Waterfront
" (San Francisco Chronicle
); and The Rackets
, described as "an elegy for the city's old Irish working class, and even for its tangled, unavoidable dealings with the Mafia" (The New York Times Book Review
). Kelly, who worked for ten years in construction, is a graduate of Fordham University and Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He lives in New York City. A New York Times Notable Book
A Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year
It is 1930, and ground has just been broken for The Empire State Building, dubbed "the Eighth Wonder of the World." One of the thousands of men working high above the city is Michael Briody, an Irish immigrant torn between his desire to make a new life in America and his pledge to gather money and arms for the Irish Republican cause. When he meets Grace Masterson, an alluring artist who is depicting the great skyscraper's rise from her houseboat on the East River, Briody's life turns exhilaratingand dangerous, for Grace is also a paramour of Johnny Farrell, Mayor Jimmy Walker's liaison with Tammany Hall, and the New York underworld.
Their heartbreaking love storywhich takes place both in the rough neighborhoods of the Bronx and amid the swanky nightlife of the '21' Clubis also a chronicle of the city's passage from a working-class enclave to a world-class metropolis, and a vivid reimagining of the conflict that pitted the Tammany Hall political machine against the boundlessly ambitious Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
With Payback and The Rackets, Thomas Kelly has shown himself to be a master of the urban thriller. With Empire Rising he takes his work to a new level. In his telling of the story of the people who made America's most distinctivecity, New York is brought exuberantly to life. "Empire Rising is an ode to urban grease; I'll never look at that grand old building the same way again . . . There is a compelling muscularity to [Kelly's] workthe plots barrel along, the characters are wildly colorfuland there is a dead-on authenticity to the dialogue and the atmospherics. There is also a bracing, and rare, appreciation for the sheer satisfaction of honest work . . . Kelly is a big-hearted and admirably ambitious writer. He wants to show the city top to bottom, from Jimmy Walker's boudoir to the Irish pubs in the South Bronx where the construction workers drink their paychecks . . . Kelly's city is palpably alive and passionate, and very recognizably New York, especially in the vertiginous rush of upward mobility, the fissures it causes within families, the loyalties strained, the traditions lost."Joe Klein, The New York Times Book Review
"Kelly mixes his fictional characters with historical ones, and the dialogue and atmospherics are pitch-perfect."Ihsan Taylor, The New York Times Book Review "Kelly has obviously done his research. New York in 1930 shines through the pages with high resolution. Kelly gives us impressive cameos of Babe Ruth, the photographer Lewis Hines, and Cab Calloway, as well as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose presidential ambitions drive much of the political deal-making in the novel . . . The swiftness with which Kelly moves from the atmosphere of the job site to his cataloging of the manifold processes conveys the feeling of exhilaration he achieves throughout the book . . . Through his seemingly effortless use of research as well as his unpretentious prose style, Kelly reveals genuine talent."Peter Campion, San Francisco Chronicle
"The plot is filled with murky intrigue and dirty secrets . . . [Kelly] knows how to tell stories and write muscular sentences."USA Today
"The ferocious struggle for survival has rarely seemed so entertaining."Dan Cryer, Newsday
"This is an extraordinary novel, teeming with the sweat and risk of skilled labor, the abstractions of belief, the aching need for love."Peter Hamill
"Empire Rising is, at bottom, a love story, told by one of my favorite authors: a writer of candor, grace, wit, and skill, who writes about the New York where the unique spirit of the Irish hovers over every sidewalk, building, street, and alleyway."James McBride, author of The Color of Water
"Empire Rising is a vivid, evocative, enthralling tale of gangsters, pols, an enduring New York mystery, and hard, joyful work. This is historical fiction writing at its best."Kevin Baker, author of Paradise Alley
"Empire Rising is vivid, vibrant, and raw, a story about beauty and corruption, idealism and violence, as intricate as New York City itself."Lauren Belfer, author of City of Light
"At the heart of this audacious novel is a unique love story between two 1930s immigrants, both so compellingly drawn that one almost forgets the scaffolds that hold them together: corruption, power, greed, art, and desire."Colum McCann, author of Dancer and This Side of Brightness
"Tom Kelly's labors recall those he chronicles in the creation of New York's signature skyscraper, piling mind over matter and then matter over mind until we reach striking heights."Edward Conlon, author of Blue Blood
"An audacious and compelling narrative by a master storyteller: tough, tender, and beautifully imagined, this intensely American tale is universal in its scope."Joseph O'Connor, author of Star of the Sea
"The construction of the Empire State Building in 1930a display of 'the great industrial frenzy of America' in a time of Depression and Prohibitionforms the background for this savage urban melodrama. Like Kelly's previous fiction, his third novel is a knowledgeable, vigorously detailed portrayal of big-city political and fiscal skullduggery and corruption, featuring a generous host of brawling characters . . . Kelly keeps it all moving, juxtaposing worksite scenes high above the city, meetings in miscellaneous smoke-filled rooms, hotel rendezvous between Grace and her married lover Farrell, and violence on the perilous streets where men marked by the city's rival Irish, Italian, and Jewish mobs suffer 'justice.' The supporting cast includes such nicely drawn presences as powerful racketeer Tough Tommy Touhey, crooked Judge Crater (tucked securely into Touhey's pocket until he undertakes an ill-advised double-cross), and Briody's firebrand Irish Republican landlord, Danny Casey, as well as cameo appearances by Babe Ruth, a sexually frisky FDR, and heavyweight pug Prim
When an Irish immigrant working on the construction of the Empire State Building meets an alluring artist who just happens to be a paramour of a major gangster, life suddenly turns exhilarating--and dangerous.