Monday, January 6, 2020

Brooklyn the Exotic

Annamaria on Monday

Hey everybody, meet my dear friend and MWA-NY tribal sister, Triss Stein!  Triss writes Brooklyn.

For at least a decade now, Brooklyn has been the happening place in the most happening city on the planet. Triss's fascinating, beautifully written mysteries will take you there with compelling stories about the present and the past of NYC's most storied borough.  Regular readers of MIE know well my deep devotion and familiarity with my beloved city.  I learn more about Brooklyn from Triss's books than I do from my regular visits to that place just over the most beautiful bridge imaginable.  If Brooklyn were a city separate from NYC, it would be the fourth most populous city in the USA - just a squinch smaller than Chicago.  Here's your chance to read an engrossing mystery AND feel as if you've been there.  I cannot wait to read this next one.

First let me tell you about Triss:

Triss Stein is a small–town girl from New York farm country who has spent most of her adult life in Brooklyn. She writes mysteries about different Brooklyn neighborhoods, their unique histories, and unique modern issues, in her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home. In her new  book, Brooklyn Legacies, murder gets in the way of historian heroine Erica Donato’s efforts to understand historic Brooklyn Heights’ clashing cultures and seismic current changes. How do historical preservationists, large real estate developers, a powerful religious organization, old Brooklyn society and aging hippies, live side by side? The answer is, with great difficulty.  And It all begins with a classic McGuffin, a lost portrait of Brooklyn’s own genius, Walt Whitman. 
Thank you to Annamaria for inviting me to join the Murder Is Everywhere blog today. Since your tag line is Ten Renowned Crime Writers From Different Corners of the World”, anyone might ask, what am I doing here? For readers in the United States, my mystery series is set in Brooklyn, New York. For readers in the US, this hardly fits in with France, Ghana, India or Greece. Foreign? No, not at all. 

However, for me, when I started working there, a lifetime ago, it did seem exotic, or at least foreign, and I’m not just talking about the neighborhoods created by immigrants. 

I’m not a native New Yorker, which tends to surprise people who have read my books. I grew up in a small (very small) city in mostly rural upstate New York. That gave me two pluses when I got to know Brooklyn: I took nothing for granted, and I had no baggage.

My first job as a children’s librarian took me to in nine different neighborhoods, and I approached every one like a wide-eyed tourist. I was fascinated to see how different they were from each other and from anything I had ever known. And there was something to see everywhere I looked: two world famous bridges slicing into the sky; quaint old streets and intimidating  housing projects (Brits read council housing);  storefront churches and Victorian Gothics; parks that were masterpieces of design. And one of those  beautiful parks is a cemetery. I could take the subway to the beach… and the beach could be Coney Island.

I’ve seen Brooklyn’s image change from “Why in the world would you live there?” to “I’d love to live there if I could afford it” to learning that even in Paris, Brooklyn in now “tres chic.” (That is hilarious)

 And I found there were three things that were similar in every varied neighborhood I worked. 

One: though I thought I was in New York, Brooklyn  natives did not say that, or often, even Brooklyn. They were from Mill Basin, Van Dyke Houses, Cypress Hills, The Courts. Many of them only ventured into Manhattan, “the city,” once a year. In other words, it was a lot more like a small town than most of them had any idea.

Two, there were always some people who insisted  the neighborhood  was  better in “the old days” before “they” moved in.  “They” could be the obvious – people of a different race or religion, with their hair in dreads or covered by a hijab – or they could also be the same faith or color, but from another country. Or perhaps just be Americans who drink fancy coffee, have tattoos, and live together unmarried. 

Three, everything changes.  In one decade, the building of public projects is a great improvement over the tenements. And in another, they are called “vertical slums.” Sometimes the people who live there are the ones who say that.  And long-abandoned factories become artist’s studios. 

And so, I’ve written five mysteries about Brooklyn, each in a different location, with a sleuth who is an urban historian. Yes, many people love to reminisce about the old days, but sometimes they don’t welcome questions or have secrets they want to keep buried no matter what it takes. In lovely Park Slope, a shabby brownstone hides a secret that goes back to a darker time not so long ago.  Green-Wood cemetery holds architectural treasures and history that was lost, and also workers whose lives are part of today’s Brooklyn.  Brownsville was always a challenging and even murderous place to grow up. The population changed, but not the struggles. The Navy Yard goes all the way back to John Adams’ day, and there was glory and pride and crime, desolation and rebirth. And lethal bitterness? Of course.

 In my new book, Brooklyn Legacies, we look at Brooklyn Heights, the oldest part of the borough, a neighborhood of quaint and charming streets, family names out of history, and spectacular views of the harbor and the world-famous bridge. And also, a powerful religious organization, some lost souls, avid real estate developers and historical preservationists. They make for uneasy neighbors.

 I invite you to come visit Brooklyn.  These days we see tourist buses here – quite a surprise – but you can travel by book from the comfort of your own home. 


  1. I grew up in Bay Ridge. Went to the school that's laughingly referred to as "New York's Hogwarts" in Brooklyn Heights. Fled both screaming, as soon as I was married. So to say my relationship with Brooklyn is complicated doesn't begin to cover it. But thanks Triss, for opening up the discussion on a borough with an incredibly complex history. Just FYI, did you know that after the 1865 draft riots African Americans fled Manhattan/Harlem for Brooklyn, which was a separate city at the time?

  2. Hi Triss. Welcome! When I lived in Brooklyn--back when dinosaurs roamed Brooklyn Heights--I always thought of it as a foreign land. Thank you for bringing back so many memories of that distant land and the many characters abounding there, plus of course, your insight on the brave new world it's become.