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Lawrence Block's Everybody Dies
Multiple-award winning, MWA Grand Master of suspense
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About Hell's Kitchen
by Karen Ahn
 
Matthew Scudder is a changed man. While still a time-hardened veteran of the streets, he's left the shadows of the mean streets to make a few startling changes. A reformed alcoholic, he's married his long-time girlfriend, Elaine, and even gotten the private investigator's license he'd avoided for so long.
But old habits die hard.
Scudder's old friend Mick Ballou needs a favor-- and it's a big one. Mick Ballou is as Irish as they come-- a fervent Irish patriot and a die-hard denizen of the New York neighborhood known as Hell's Kitchen. Hell's Kitchen is Mick's turf, and he is determined to protect what's his-- with Scudder's help.
Hell's Kitchen (also known as Clinton; in the 1700s, the DeWitt Clinton farm extended from what is now 39th up to 55th street) is a neighborhood steeped in violence, poetry, and camaraderie. Populated by tenements, breweries and slaughterhouses in the 1800s, it housed unseen, oppressed immigrants from all nations who would soon leave their mark on New York City. From the outside it was a frightening, depraved haven of evil and corruption to the middle-class denizens of New York. To the residents it was a working-class neighborhood-- albeit tougher than most, while Thomas Wolfe and O. Henry called the streets of Hell's kitchen both home and inspiration.
Hell's Kitchen has left its mark on history-- the Civil War draft riots of 1863 left several dead and 8,000 wounded. Immediately following the Civil War, thousands of homeless street urchins eventually formed the notorious 19th Street Gang, led by Dutch Heinrichs. Soon the Gophers, Pug Uglies, Bowery Boys and the Dead Rabbits gangs followed, and the battles amongst them for territory (including the infamous Tenderloin area) began. So dangerous that police constables would only patrol the area in pairs, the author Herbert Asbury said it was the most dangerous area in America.
Eventually the gangs evolved into sophisticated organizations who would control New York via the political machines entrenched in the already corrupt city government, Tammany Hall.
Currently Hell's Kitchen is a residential neighborhood, populated by families-- in fact, populated by families that have been there for generations. Many are fiercely loyal to the neighborhood and praise its almost small-town sense of community.
But the residents are still aware-- and proud-- of Hell's Kitchen's colorful past. They all know and recount the popular stories behind the neighborhood's nickname-- some say it comes from a similar neighborhood nicknamed Hell's Kitchen in London; others say the term was first used by a reported in the New York Times in the late 1800s. Some say it comes from an old German restaurant of the same name.
The most popular story comes from a folktale about a cop named Dutch Fred. A veteran police officer, he and his rookie partner were watching a small riot one night on West 39th Street at 10th Avenue. His partner, aghast at the violence, is supposed to have said, "This place is hell itself!" Fred replied leisurely, "Hell's a mild climate. This is Hell's Kitchen."

 

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