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Talk to me nasty like Jack Mulligan or not at all…
My favourite ever trope is bad boy // good girl. When the bad boy has to redeem his ways a little to get the good girl, he did not know he needed. When he discovers he loves her, has feelings, feels feelings and cannot handle it. When the author puts to words those feelings, it makes my insides melt… those moments are my ever loving catnip. When the good girl finds her little bit of bad self, being a little risqué and taking the bad boy by surprise of what she can do? Inject it in my veins.
This book is all those tropes rolled into one, but more than anything, it is plot and character and story… and dirty talk. I love a dirty talker; Jack Mulligan can talk to me nasty any day and any way he wants; I’ll listen Jack, call me. However, beyond all that is the history and background to the characters. Mulligan is based on the former five points boss Paul Kelly, (wikipedia says criminal but we call him boss, because look at those in charge of the world and its institutions right now… okay.) whose rise to power and his dominance over the neighbourhood after amalgamating powers is something of a history lesson. This story is all encompassing; Shupe gives us that history lesson within her narrative, and lets us in a little on how New York was. Out of that blossomed a love story of Justine Greene, the Greene sisters remind me of the Schuyler sisters in Hamilton.
Justine is the resident “do gooder” as Mulligan likes to call her; she is known for her charity endeavours and helping residents settle and get support, working to secure workers and tenants’ rights and of course finding deserter husbands. This is what brings her to Mulligans’ doorstep in the Bowery where good girls and heiresses know not to go.
Mulligan the suave and most beautiful criminal boss who does not hide behind titles and legends, he is all brass balls but is knocked figuratively on his arse after that first meeting with Justine, despite thinking her plain at first and wanting to fire her stylist for putting her in boring clothes that do nothing to enhance her skin tone. She has gotten under his skin and without meaning to, but wanting to, he finds himself being entangled with her and her do-gooding ways. It is not long before he starts considering her feelings and she robs off on him and he wants to do right by her.
Even if that mean giving up his empire.
It is the simplest of tales, one almost as old as time; bad boy meets good girl, charms the pants off her without meaning to, and she meets his mark at every turn taking him by surprise, literally steals his breath away. Everything else that happens is an elevation of the story. This story is rich and beautiful and raw and simple. Its simplicity elevated by the complexity of characters’ rich lives on both sides of the tracks. A multi layered tale that does not do too much; it does just enough. The history lesson peaks your interest because you are immediately curious about the five points gang and what really went down those days and Tamany Hall. The New York of old comes to play so vividly and you get a sense of the workings of how things were and how so much may have changed, but somehow has remained the same in terms of class and society, even police corruption. It is in every little detail even when Shupe describes the smoke from the gasolier hissing in the room… she takes us there.
I love characters in this novel. I am in love with Jack Mulligan which makes me a walking cliché but I LIKE IT.
Mulligan is unapologetic and brass balls, but somewhere deep inside is soft as mush for Justine. I love the way he talks, never having to apologise for who he is and where he is from, what he has had to go through dragging himself up before making it to the top. I love the depth of his character, the richness even in his flaws and the way he comes alive on page and in audio. Yes, yes, I both read and listened to this book on audio.
Justine is my favourite of the Greene sisters, and being the last novel in the series, it makes sense because whilst I liked Mamie and Florence from the two previous books, I liked them a lot less in this because they were a little sanctimonious, Florence in particular because I expected her to be on Jack’s side considering she spent sometime in his bars… that aside I still liked them. But Justine was and will always be my favourite. Her “solid brass” as Mulligan likes to think of her was a thing of beauty to read, her sureness in herself and the unwavering belief in the goodness of people that really exposes her naïveté and the strength of her character really makes her outclass and outshine the others. From the jump when she kicks her attackers arse… I knew I was in for a treat.
Rye and Cooper; awwww… that scene when to help out in the soup kitchen without even speaking but we are all mush for them through Justine’s reaction… Even Clayton and Frank and Granny… the layers are plenty and none one dimensional. This is solid character work that will make you enjoy the story even more, their brief appearances on page only enhance the main characters and gives further insight into them. This is character building in the hands of one of the best to ever do them.
I cannot choose because I have plenty. The sex scenes are fantastic, but even more so the build up to it, when Jack literally says what he wants to do to Justine; no words minced. Like the bowling scene; the master of filth tells Justine in no uncertain terms all the things he wants to do to, and with her when she eventually gets into his bed. I love the softness and playfulness of this scene, right from the carriage leading to the front door, the reach of both characters and the revelations of everything else around them.
The scene at the soup kitchen when Jack shows up unexpectedly to help Justine simply because he misses her after seeing her every afternoon, and afterwards when he waits for her outside. The way Joanna Shupe describes him is exactly perfect a delectable ice cream cone… I would happily lick him.
The first sex scene where Justine asks Jack to undress… this scene is so beautiful I could cry with love. Because this is the revelation of who he is, the story of the boy he was, the man he grew up to become and the scars that map the roads in between. This is also where we see Mulligan’s fears come alive. He fears that she will come to see him as ugly, the way he sees himself in the depths of his being, the scars that would scare her away and the gravity of what he would lose if that happens. Even if he thinks it won’t mean anything to him and it is for the best… but Justine, sweet incredible Justine steals our heart with what she does in this scene. I re-read it and listen to his so many times it is easily, easily my favourite scene because this encompasses this trope to perfection. Joanna Shupe does it justice in ways some others will fluff.
If I could I would give this book ten stars, I read it when it was newly released and it is one I have re-read several times after it is a stellar work of historical fiction. TRIPLE TEN STAR. I love it and it still remains one of my favourite books. I have it on kindle, on audio and in paperback because I am that clapped in the head, because Jack Mulligan is just THAT GUY. Which makes me absolutely mental, but he is really that man and I’mma stick by him always. But more than anything this book has all the elements; a love story, history, New York, sisters, bad boy, good girl, society, community… what is not to love???
Go read this absolute gem of a book.