Friday, August 06, 2010

80 Years Ago Today ... Judge Crater Never Returned

Last night, New York City raised a glass to Peter Quinn, author of the new book The Man Who Never Returned, a historical thriller based on the real-life story of Judge Joseph F. Crater.

If you're interested in the Judge Crater story (and, of course, the book!) check out this New York Times piece, where Quinn traces Judge Crater's last known steps with NYT reporter Alan Feuer.

The city is, itself, a sort of vanishing act — all those Broadway haunts replaced by condominiums — and Judge Crater can, perhaps, be thought of as its human embodiment: influential one day, annihilated the next. His memory lives on, but no more than his memory. Where did he go? Change the “he” to “it” and the question holds true for the Hotel Astor, the old Pennsylvania Station, the Automat.

Throw in some timeless specifics — sex, politics, the suggestion of corruption — and the Crater case could, without much effort, be discerned in the headlines of yesterday’s newspaper. Even its milieu — the anxious post-crash days when the severity of the Great Depression had not yet settled in — has relevance today. “When that guy disappeared, a lot went with him,” Mr. Quinn said. “It was the end of the whole 1920s era in New York.”

Today--on the anniversary of the judge's disappearance--the New York Daily News ran this op-ed by Quinn, reliving the story and the effect the Crater case had on the New York City culture.

The Crater case is one of eternal intrigue. It speaks to what New York will always be: seductive, exciting, filled with endless possibilities for getting rich and getting killed, a dynamic creator and consummate destroyer of celebrity.

Barnes and Noble is also featuring The Man Who Never Returned on their site. Click here for the full review.

Quinn's jaded cops quote Ecclesiastes and Poe, Dante and Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas's aesthetic of clarity is especially salubrious in Dunne's line of work—and true to the hardboiled genre, it arrives almost too late. But in the end it's not Aquinas but an older saint, Ambrose, who holds the key to the Crater mystery—and that's as close to a spoiler as this review will come. The presence of such ancient shades in The Man Who Never Returned seems fanciful, but they're a reminder that the diversions and demons Quinn's characters pursue are ancient ones, not limited to one era or generation. In the end, the mystery is unraveled—but history claims its prerogative, swallowing up the answers. Joseph Force Crater—his name like the open hole in which Fintan Dunne and his generation first saw death—remains missing to this day.

And you can check out the video from Quinn's previously-mentioned New York 1 interview. Unfortunately, we can't embed the video, but it really brings the story to life.

Enjoy a few pictures from Quinn's party last night. More to come!

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