Saturday, January 5, 2019

ARC Review: The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

The Paragon Hotel
Author: Lyndsay Faye
Publication: G.P. Putnam's Sons (January 8, 2019)

Description: 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?

My Thoughts: Alice James, whose nickname is Nobody, tells this story in the form of a memoir meant for someone she loves. It's 1921 and twenty-five year old Alice is on a train to Portland, Oregon, and nursing a gunshot wound. She is rescued by Pullman porter Max who takes her to the Paragon Hotel where her wound is treated by Dr. Doddridge Pendleton, war veteran and the hotel owner.

The Paragon is the only hotel for blacks in Portland. Therefore, Welsh-Italian Alice isn't necessarily welcomed. But Alice grew up in Harlem before it was a black enclave. After a childhood in a Raines Law hotel where her mother worked as a prostitute, she got involved with the Italian crime families who were fighting for domination there. Her ability to become anyone or go unnoticed called her to the attention of one of the would-be crime lords who convinced her that he was on the side of right and good. She befriended a number of the people - black and white - who worked in the club and speakeasies. When she learned just how dirty her boss was and was shot by a former childhood friend, she needed to disappear.

As she settles into the Paragon, she makes new friends especially Blossom Fontaine who is a flamboyant lounge singer who is hiding a number of secrets. When Davy Lee, the little mulatto boy who is the mascot of the hotel, disappears, the employees of the hotel begin a search knowing that the police wouldn't have any interest in finding one missing black kid.

Oregon was not a good place for blacks to live. Laws were passed to make it illegal for blacks to live in the state and the Ku Klux Klan had a very large presence there. The police and the local white citizens generally supported the klan's goals of making things good for white protestants. Though a few thought the cross burnings and lynchings were going a little far. The whole racial situation frightened the residents of the Paragon.

I enjoyed this story of a young woman who finds a place and a purpose. She finds friendship and love. The setting was well-done. The language consisting of so much 1920s slang and coming from the mouth of a very sassy young flapper made me almost need a translator. Luckily, the Italian saying that were common in the parts of the story that took place in Harlem did have footnotes translating them.

This was engaging and entertaining historical fiction about a difficult time in America's past told by an observant and likable main character.

Favorite Quote:
I take a drag. It's asphalt and moonlight, better than thesoup. Not quite as good as the liquor. If you're wondering, this is the Nobody I was around Mr. Salvatici. Sees everything and everyone, comments with unflinching candor, wears couture Lanvin crinolines and oilsking kip waders with equal aplomb, can talk jazz for hours, drinks like a trench laddie, and follows orders. Burrows into closets for people's skeletons. That sort.
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from Edelweiss. You can buy your copy here.


  1. It seems frightening that this horrible past is rearing its head again not just in America, but all over the world.
    Sounds an interesting read both from the historical and story angle.

  2. Wonderful review! I have this one on my wishlist for this year. It was on my radar because I want to read Jane Steele soon. I don't usually like to read this era of time in the U.S. but the plot of racial and cultural divide is so pertinent today I want to read it.


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