Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review - Mercy Row by Harry Hallman (4/5)

[The following review is part of the Mercy Row blog tour being organized by Sage’s Blog Tours.  For a list of blogs on the tour, see the tour page. For more information about the author and the book, check out]

By Amanda Amaya

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

I was sucked into this book from the first page.  Here is the synopsis from Amazon:
Click here for the Amazon listing
Mercy Row is a novel set in 1920s and 19302 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 in 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 that struck me when reading Mercy Row, was the incredible violence and 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 vernacular.  I could see how it could put off some readers, so that’s why I mention it.  But what else do you expect from a book about this time period?

Regardless, I was quickly sucked into the world of Jacob, Frank and their associates.  I loved the loyalty and friendship between these two.  Also, Mr. Hallman’s depiction of these “gangs” is reminiscent of “Boardwalk Empire.”  He doesn’t depict the day by day activities of the gangs, 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.

Harry Hallman
Using a somewhat unorthodox structure, the plot and setting of Mercy Row jump forward a decade about halfway through the book.  Not too many books (or authors) can do this and keep the flow and overall tone of the book alive, but Mr. Hallman does both.

It is fascinating to see how the gang transitions from bootlegging to other enterprises with the repeal of prohibition, and it is touching to see Jacob soften with regard to his family.  He is still ruthless when it comes to protecting that family, but the entire concept of “Mercy Row” is about the love he has for his daughter.

I also adored Harry Hallman’s depiction of Philly.  I kept on reading quotes to my husband to get his take on the descriptions of people and places.  Eventually, I’m going to have to get him to read it as well.  I know he’ll find particularly interesting the entire scene in Oxford, Pennsylvania.  Years ago the town was described to me exactly as Mr. Hallman has written.  Nearly word for word.  And that right there takes talent.

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.  Four stars.

About the Reviewer:  Amanda was born in Texas, moved to Pittsburgh for 25 years, and now she’s back in the Lone Star State.  She has been a nurse for a decade.  She loves to read and will usually read anything.  She prefers to focus on self-published authors and may consider writing herself one day.  She is also a newlywed and a mom.  You can check out her work at the and on her blog The Eclectic Bookworm.


  1. Amanda, what can I say! I really appreciate your fine review and am blown away by your comments. This is my first book (at age 68) and I am working on a follow-up taking place in the 40's and 50's.

    The reason I know about Oxford Pa is that I once worked in Kennett Square, Pa (very near Oxford) at the University of Pa Vet School. I had occasion to visit Oxford and a farm nearby. That was in 1968. It is an amazing area of the state. Near Kennett Square is Brandwine, home of the artist family the Wyeths. I also met the artist Andre Harvey ( a friend of Jamie Wyeth) who at that time worked at Scholastic magazine. His wife work at the University lab. Not long after I met them he and his wife asked me to recommend a camera because they were going to Europe for a year to learn about the culture and art. When they came back Andre had spent more than a year leaning metal sculpturing. They also brought back some of the most artistic photos I have scene and I knew then that Andrea (and his wife) had great artistic talent. He certainly proved that is subsequent years.

  2. This sounds great, I love this time period and would enjoy something set in Philly. I will keep my eyes peeled for it. Awesome review :)

  3. I found it to be an interesting book.

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