The author of High Dive returns with a novel that explores the extraordinary life, and mysterious murder, of Andrew Haswell Green, the force behind the creation of Central Park, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Natural History and New York Public Library.
... a novel so comprehensively steeped in American literary history that it comes as something of a surprise to find that its author is a fortysomething from Surrey. It’s as if Lee...has distilled more than a century of American letters into a single book. There’s Fitzgerald ... There’s Hemingway in the muscular lyricism of the prose; Sherwood Anderson and Steinbeck in the beautifully drawn portraits of rural America; there’s the restraint of Henry James in the sinuous sentences; and then there’s a host of lesser-known writers who took for their subject turn-of-the-century New York and the riotous excesses of early capitalism: Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris and Upton Sinclair ... a book of extraordinary intelligence and style, written in language at once beautiful and playfully aphoristic. It’s a novel whose protagonist—decent, dignified, wounded—will live long in the mind of those that read it, a novel that delivers wholeheartedly on Lee’s early promise.
... a seriously entertaining fictional recreation of the life and violent death of a forgotten giant in the history of New York City, Andrew Haswell Green. A sentence from page six serves notice that the novel is hugely ambitious and pleasingly odd ... This may be historical fiction, but Jonathan Lee makes his own rules ... The detective work is ingenious and provides a teasing, low-key suspense ... Among the unexpected urban delights revealed in The Great Mistake is a fine comic sex scene between a prostitute and her corpulent customer ... The Great Mistake seems to float free of its era and defy the constraints of its genre. I won’t say it’s one of a kind, only that I wish there were more novels like it.
... phenomenal ... through semi-fictional characterizations and lyrical prose, Lee creates an unforgettable study of a person and time, marrying fact and imagination, adding a vibrancy of color to the faded sepia of microfiche articles and photographs. He has an innate understanding of how 'one’s past is as much of a work of imagination as one’s future' and equally, how what we try to escape often comes to haunt us, even New York itself ... Lee’s surgically precise descriptive powers aren’t limited to the richness of Green’s life ... Lee delicately folds extrapolations from public records and other sources into evocative, poetic language that reaches out like the branches of one of the trees in Green’s beloved Central Park. ... Lee excels at underscoring such comparisons, engaging the reader on multiple levels, which is the arena of the best fiction, historical or otherwise ... The term historical fiction seems as dry as forgotten toast, but in the right hands it creates a parallel timeline that marries what we know with what could have been. Many could write a meaningful biography about Andrew Haswell Green and his achievements. But what Lee has done is far greater, by creating a novel that lives in that ineffable space where what was—at least what was on record—lives alongside what might have been, through a captivating Circe-like writing style ... There’s a special resonance in reading this book as an immigrant, because in a sense, Green was also an immigrant to New York, striving to create a space of his own, to become what he couldn’t become elsewhere. As much as Green’s achievements reveal a tremendous love for New York, so too this novel feels like a love letter to the city. It would be easy to recommend The Great Mistake for its confident, well-researched and impeccably crafted take on a singular individual who had so much to do with the creation of New York City as we know it. The parks, the museums, the library, so many aspects of shared public resources which give this city life and attempt to balance the wide rift between the excessively wealthy and the rest of us. But you should really read this book for Lee’s exquisite prose, his poetic shadings of a life and a time in which so much was possible.