Irish-born Johnny Flynn, a former British soldier, is banished from his homeland and sent to America on a ship so riddled with disease that he realizes the voyage was meant to murder him. When he survives the trip, the captain forces him to walk the plank into the Hudson River. Miraculously, Johnny is rescued by a rum running Irish gang, the Swamp Angels, and given a job running whisky in Hell’s Kitchen just as Prohibition makes liquor a hugely profitable, dangerous business.
Fighting for his life and livelihood amid the denizens of the Manhattan piers, Johnny is plagued by the memory of his lost lover, Nora, whose father, the famed Irish revolutionary, James Connolly, met his death through a firing squad that included a reluctant gunman named Johnny Flynn. Nora’s last words to him, when she learned of his betrayal and left him, “I love you, Johnny Flynn”, echo in his heart, leaving him pulsing with guilt, yearning, and the hope that she might yet forgive him.
Johnny drinks hard. One night, drunk on the floor of Hailey’s speakeasy, he encounters a seeming apparition on stage, the ghostly Esme, an Irish singer who suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of the British Black and Tans. Johnny is dazzled by her. She is not only a singer but a healer, teaching poor and afflicted children to sing and gather hope at an old theater called The Woebegone. From Esme Johnny learns how to overcome the desire for revenge, only to discover that she, too, clings to her own dark dream of retribution.
Hell’s Kitchen, Johnny discovers, is thronged with people whose damaged hearts ache for revenge, repentance and love. As he grapples with taking responsibility to help others resolve this overwhelming dilemma, he learns that Nora is coming to New York to advocate for Irish independence. As he confronts her and soon thereafter receives a piercing love letter from Esme, the story comes to a turbulent climax.
“The Crossing” by Ashby Jones is a powerfully written and memorable love story set in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen during Prohibition and dealing with the reconciliation of love and guilt, grief and promise. Deftly combining history, fact, surrealism, and reality into an ‘ever-recycling boost of the human spirit’, “The Crossing” is a compelling page turner of a read from start to finish and will prove to be a welcome and appreciated addition to community library collections in general, and the personal reading lists of romance and suspense fans in particular.
This is a very peculiar book. On the surface, it’s a historical novel, set in New York (precisely the infamous Hell’s Kitchen block) during Prohibition, but in a more profound way, this is a coming-of-age story that centres around forgiveness and the power this feeling brings to people.
Johnny Flynn is an Irish young man with quite a difficult past. He took part in WWI in the British army, and after that, he entered the Irish War for Independence against the British and their Black and Tan ‘army’. Not an easy time to live through for an Irish. In fact, Johnny’s memories of that time are sorrowful and guilty.
This is what the story addresses: how do we live with what we’ve done, and how do we find the strength to leave it behind so that we can look a the future?
Most of the characters in this story lived through terrible personal events, and they struggled to get a grip on them. Most of them think that revenge is not only the most obvious thing to pursue but also the just thing to do.
But is it really the best choice?
I really enjoyed how the author explored this subject and how he guided the characters through their journey in discovering what is really more important to them. All the characters in the story are damaged, some even physically, which makes the path to healing more powerful.
I also really enjoyed the general mood of the story, that dreamy quality that permeates it.
There’s a surreal quality to many episodes, enhanced by the continuous mingling of past and present, that sometimes get mixed up so thoroughly it becomes almost impossible to untangle.
Yes, it is an unusual book, but well worth reading.
Afraid Esme may disappear if he turned away from her, he backed onto the shore. Her body didn’t seem to move but inched toward him entirely vailed in a thin coat of ice. She waited on the edge for the ice to melt, leaving her skin a purplish blue. Azure, as she’d foretold. The oddest thought came to him: maybe she’s been waiting underwater for the faeries to return her to this world. Glistening in the glow of the horizon, she seemed to be ala layered reflection of her two halves, each of the four bound to a common heart by the figure eight shining on her breast.
She pointed to the figure. “Infinity,” she said, “the swerving racetrack each of us travel, not to mention the Indy.”
Beneath the passion in her voice Johnny felt he heard an apology as if she realised words alone were insufficient to explain what she meant. “I’ve never known anyone like you,” he said.
Her purple lips began to turn pale. He thought Jenny and broke into a smile.
“I’m sure anyone is grateful,” Esme said. “Would you please hold the blanket, so I might put on my clothes?”
“But I’ve just seen every inch of you.”
“Please know, Johnny, I cannot be the object of a man’s fantasy.”
Believing she was playfully returning his joke, he smiled and raised the blanket to give her privacy.
This post is part of the Reading Ireland Month, a March event organised by Cathy Brown from the 746 Books Blog. It celebrates everything Irish, from books (of course!) to films, arts, food, culture and history – and much more of the Emerald Island.
Go have a look. It’s great fun!