Book Review: Mercy Row by Harry Hallman


I was drawn to this book 1) because my husband is Italian and 2) he is from the greater Philly area.  And because I love historical fiction.

I was taken in by this book from the first page.  Here is the synopsis from amazon:

Mercy Row is a novel set in 1920s and ’30s Philadelphia. It is the story of the rise of a North Philadelphia crime family that was also responsible for building the homes and factories that make up this blue-collar area of the city. Despite the violent trials and tribulations caused by rival gangs from South Philadelphia and Chicago, Jacob Byrne and Franklin Garrett, with the help of the Irish immigrants who settled the Kensington area, build a formidable Irish mob.

This legal and criminal enterprise kept North Philadelphia free from the mafia for two generations. Jacob’s and Franklin’s organization was built on the blood of those who opposed them, the sweat of the laborers who built North Philly and the tears of the wives and mothers whose loved ones were lost in the struggle.

The first thing I noticed about this book is that it is incredibly violent and uses a plethora of foul language.

That isn’t a problem from me, as I read zombie books and I’m from the Northeast, where “curse” words are part of the everyday venacular.  But I could see how this could put off some readers.  But what can you expect from a book about this time period?

I was quickly sucked into the world of Jacob, Frank and their associates.  I loved the loyalty and friendship between these two.

Mr. Hallman’s depiction of these “gangs” is reminiscent of “Boardwalk Empire”.

Hallman doesn’t give the day by day activities of this group, just enough info for the reader to get a feel for the characters of Jacob and Frank and how they operated.

And the action is relentless.  Tommy guns, speakeasies, dames, corruption all feature prominently.

The book jumps a decade about halfway through.  Not too many books can do this, and keep the flow and overall tone of the book alive.  Mr. Hallman does both of these.

It was fascinating to see how the gang was set up to transition from bootlegging to other enterprises with the repeal of prohibition.

It was touching to see Jacob soften with regard to his family.  He was still ruthless when it came to protecting that family, but the entire concept of “Mercy Row” was about the love he had for his daughter.

I loved this depiction of Philly.  I kept on reading quotes to my husband to get his take on what was written.

I’m eventually going to have him read it as well. 

He will particularly find interesting the entire scene in Oxford, Pennsylvania.  The town was described to me years ago exactly as Mr. Hallman has written.  Nearly word for word.

Overall a quick, entertaining read.  It gives an amusing account of this city in the early part of the 20th century.

I do hope we hear more of Jacob and Frank and their exploits in the future.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Teena in Toronto
    Jul 02, 2013 @ 21:16:31

    I thought it was an interesting story.


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