Cover image for The Paragon Hotel
Title:
The Paragon Hotel
ISBN:
9780735210752
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : G. P. Putnams Sons, [2019]
Physical Description:
422 pages ; 24 cm
Summary:
1921. "Nobody" Alice James is on a cross-country train, carrying a bullet wound and fleeing for her life following an illicit drug and liquor deal gone horribly wrong. Her sights are set on Oregon: the end of the line. She befriends Max, a black Pullman porter, who leads her to Portland's Paragon Hotel. It's the only all-black hotel in the city, and its lodgers seem unduly terrified of a white woman on the premises. She meets the churlish Dr. Pendleton, the stately Mavereen, and club chanteuse Blossom Fontaine. But the Ku Klux Klan has arrived in Portland, burning crosses, inciting violence, electing officials, and brutalizing blacks. And only the residents of the Paragon are willing to search for a missing mulatto child who vanished into the Oregon woods. -- adapted from jacket.
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Summary

Summary

The new and exciting historical thriller by Lyndsay Faye, author of Edgar-nominated Jane Steele and Gods of Gotham , which follows Alice "Nobody" from Prohibition-era Harlem to Portland's the Paragon Hotel.

The year is 1921, and "Nobody" Alice James is on a cross-country train, carrying a bullet wound and fleeing for her life following an illicit drug and liquor deal gone horribly wrong. Desperate to get as far away as possible from New York City and those who want her dead, she has her sights set on Oregon: a distant frontier that seems the end of the line.

She befriends Max, a black Pullman porter who reminds her achingly of Harlem, who leads Alice to the Paragon Hotel upon arrival in Portland. Her unlikely sanctuary turns out to be the only all-black hotel in the city, and its lodgers seem unduly terrified of a white woman on the premises. But as she meets the churlish Dr. Pendleton, the stately Mavereen, and the unforgettable club chanteuse Blossom Fontaine, she begins to understand the reason for their dread. The Ku Klux Klan has arrived in Portland in fearful numbers--burning crosses, inciting violence, electing officials, and brutalizing blacks. And only Alice, along with her new "family" of Paragon residents, are willing to search for a missing mulatto child who has mysteriously vanished into the Oregon woods.

Why was "Nobody" Alice James forced to escape Harlem? Why do the Paragon's denizens live in fear--and what other sins are they hiding? Where did the orphaned child who went missing from the hotel, Davy Lee, come from in the first place? And, perhaps most important, why does Blossom Fontaine seem to be at the very center of this tangled web?


Author Notes

Lyndsay Faye is the author of five critically acclaimed books: Jane Steele , which was nominated for an Edgar for Best Novel; Dust and Shadow ; The Gods of Gotham , also Edgar-nominated; Seven for a Secret ; and The Fatal Flame . Faye, a true New Yorker in the sense she was born elsewhere, lives in New York City with her husband, Gabriel.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Faye (Jane Steele) takes a simultaneously exuberant and weighty approach to historical mystery in her memorable latest. It's 1921, and Alice James, known as Nobody for her uncanny ability to continually reinvent herself while remaining almost totally forgettable, arrives-complete with bullet wound-in Portland, Ore., after fleeing some bloody history with the New York mob. There, the wounded Nobody, who is white, is taken by a kind and discreet (not to mention attractive) black Pullman porter she'd befriended on the cross-country train ride to the Paragon Hotel, a haven for Portland's small and increasingly besieged black population. The black community's anxieties mount when a young boy-who's been brought up communally by the Paragon's residents-goes missing. Nobody poses as a journalist while becoming fond of the Paragon's inhabitants, particularly chanteuse Blossom Fontaine. As Nobody investigates the boy's disappearance, she is well served by her ability to observe while remaining unnoticed. Nobody gains access to Blossom's many secrets, as well as those of brilliant-but-fragile white philanthropist Evelina Vaughan, who has her own interest in the missing boy. What starts as a bit of a Prohibition-era crime romp becomes increasingly relevant as issues of mental illness, race, and gender identity take on greater significance. In addition to illuminating Portland's unsavory history of racism, Faye's novel vividly illustrates how high the stakes could-and can still-be for those claiming and defending their own identities. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Faye once again vividly illuminates history with her fiction. Here the focus is on the Mafia in New York City and the blatant racism in Portland, Oregon, during Prohibition. Half-Italian and half-Welsh Alice James, 25, known as Nobody for her ability to blend into any background, tells her story in chapters labeled Now and Then, the latter detailing her youth as the daughter of a prostitute and best friend of Nicolo Benenati, who loves but accidentally shoots Alice, wounding but not killing her. Still suffering from the wound, Alice flees on a train headed west in 1921. The Now chapters take up her arrival in Portland, where a black porter, seeing her condition, takes her to the all-black Paragon Hotel. Here, waking from anesthetic after being treated by a black doctor, she meets stunning ebony-skinned cabaret singer Blossom Fontaine, whose friendship warms her while others worry about a white woman recovering in a black hotel. The disappearance of Blossom's six-year-old mixed-race foundling fuels the Now chapters and soon activates the KKK, thriving in Portland, to deadly action, as Alice pieces together the puzzle of Blossom's past. While the violence of Mafia rule is nothing new, Oregon's deeply racist past is lesser known, and both are brought to life in this remarkably fluid fiction, framed as a love letter and based in fact.--Michele Leber Copyright 2018 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

WHO KNEW A thriller could be this boring! Felonies, hush money, Russian agents, dogged journalists - in real time, it turns out, all that stuff moves like molasses, with none of the subtle internal coherence you find in a good novel of suspense. We may have to concede that while truth is indeed stranger than fiction, fiction is substantially better arranged. On the other hand, we don't know the ending yet. There are great books that begin slowly, the authors talking themselves uncertainly toward their material before suddenly they find it and the intensity increases, the options narrow, the risk heightens: The final report comes in. TAKE JANE HARPER'S THE LOST MAN (Flatiron, $27.99). A gifted, laconic former journalist from Australia, Harper made her debut in 2016 with a dazzler called "The Dry," about a farming community that had been waiting two years for rain. She followed it up with a weaker but readable sequel featuring some of the same cast, and now, in "The Lost Man," has written a stand-alone mystery. It's one of those books that actually start around Page 75 - a bit dull, then all at once enthralling. "The Lost Man" is set in Queensland, a ranch's distance off from a town called Balamara, itself "a single street, really," 1,500 kilometers west of Brisbane. (For those of you still using imperial units, 1,500 kilometers is roughly equivalent to one billion miles.) In this remote country, Nathan Bright is isolated further still by an ancient transgression whose nature Harper doesn't immediately disclose. He manages his land alone, accepts infrequent visits from his son, and occasionally sees his family. But he's barely alive. "After Kelly died," Harper writes - his dog, cruelly poisoned by an unknown enemy - "he had felt his fingertips starting to slip." As the novel begins, though, Nathan receives a jolt. His brother Cam dies, and it forces him back to his childhood home, where he sees his mother, a fearsomely capable old hired hand named Harry, a couple of backpackers who have stopped for work and, perhaps most crucially, the woman he once loved but who married his brother, Use. The bizarre circumstances of Cam's death - he dies from the heat, desperately spiraling a gravestone to stay in its meager shade, despite being close to his car - force Nathan into an ad hoc investigation first of his brother, then ultimately of his own unhappiness. "Human relationships are vast as deserts," Patrick White, perhaps Australia's greatest writer, once wrote. "They demand all daring." Harper's books succeed in part because she conveys how even now, geography can be fate. Heat and empty space in her work defeat modernity, defeat logic, technology and even love, throwing us back upon our irreducible selves. By the time she reveals the (brilliantly awful) back story about Nathan's banishment from the few human comforts of Balamara - the pub, for example - the reader feels frantic for their restoration. The final pages of "The Lost Man" are somewhat predictable, but Harper is skillful enough, a prickly, smart, effective storyteller, that it doesn't matter. She's often cynical, but always humane. Book by book, she's creating her own vivid and complex account of the outback, and its people who live where people don't live. if "THE lost MAN" starts slowly and ends at a hurtle, Joann Cheney's AS LONG AS WE BOTH SHALL LIVE (Flatiron, $27.99) threatens to do the opposite. It's about a woman whose husband comes rushing down a mountainside after a hike, calling for help: His wife has fallen from a steep precipice into the river below, which the park rangers know, exchanging glances, means that she's all but guaranteed to be dead. All but. The thriller is living in the aftermath of the revolution Gillian Flynn ignited with "Gone Girl," in which everyone is guilty, depending on what kind of crime you mean, and in which experienced readers mistrust their first instincts. Her pupils include Chaney. "When a woman is murdered, it's probably the husband," Matt Evans, the husband this time around, says early in her book. "Hell, anyone with basic cable and the slightest interest in the melodrama of true crime knows it." After a few chapters of "As Long as We Both Shall Live," it seems clear that in fact he pushed his wife, Marie, from the cliff. For one thing, we learn that his first wife died in a mysterious fire; for another, he's a born salesman, suave and unctuous, with an eye for other women. But Chaney does just enough to raise the possibility that something else is going on. She offers one scene, for instance, now a staple of the genre, in which Marie's friends describe her with an innocent matter-of-factness that actually paints her in a few small anecdotes as a sociopath. Could it be that she set Matt up? Many writers in the past few years, modeling their books on the work of Flynn, Liane Moriarty and Paula Hawkins, would settle for that premise. But part of the pleasure of "As Long as We Both Shall Live" is that Chaney's too sly for that. She's on the run too, a half-step ahead of us but continually getting away, right through the book's conclusion. She's an indifferent stylist (an "impossibly blue sky" shows up early, a character "wound tight as a drum," that kind of prose) but a surprisingly nuanced and thoughtful writer, especially delicate in her portrayal of two cops who might easily have fallen into stereotype. This may be yet another husband-and-wife domestic thriller in an era overwhelmed by them, but it's a strong one. IT WOULD BE HARD to accuse THE PLOTTERS (Doubleday, $25.95), a raucous extravaganza of assassins and lunatics by the lauded Korean writer Un-Su Kim, of conforming to any template. It does belong, however, to an emerging subgenre that's become more and more discernible lately, from "1Q84," by Haruki Murakami, to the recent Booker Prize winner "Milkman," by Anna Burns, to the Netflix show "Maniac" - works that are not dystopian, but instead set in worlds identical to ours except for minor, unsettling differences: two or three millimeters over in the multiverse, say. In Kim's version of Seoul, North Korea has fallen, with unexpected results. "The overthrow of three decades of military dictatorship ... and the brisk advent of democratization," he writes, "led to a major boom in the assassination industry." The city's "plotters," nebulous capitalist kingpins, have figured out that killing is the ultimate market efficiency. "Nowadays, if you so much as tap a mountain with a bulldozer, bodies come pouring out," a character laments. One of these assassins is Reseng. Young, handsome and like everyone in his trade continually nearing the end of what he knows will be a very brief life, he stupefies himself with beer between jobs. But things are stirring; his mentor, Old Raccoon, might be losing his grip on power. What's more, a woman is secretly obsessed with Reseng, and may also have the power to save his life. Kim is a good writer, soulful and observant. He sees "flames balking briefly" at new wood on a fire; notes dryly of black tea that of course it's the product of imperialism: "Anything this flavorful has to be hiding an incredible amount of carnage." This intelligence and humor keep Reseng's tale afloat on its tiring, convoluted narrative. As in "Sin City" or "A Confederacy of Dunces," plot is pointedly unimportant to "The Plotters," mostly a medium for satire and repulsion. Perhaps that's the point of these tales set slightly akilter from our own world. By exaggerating the exigencies of capitalism, Kim circles closer to them: For people like Reseng, he seems to argue, globalization has amounted to nothing but the dim sense that some monumental unfairness, impossible to counteract, is moving tectonically beneath our feet. Each of us is fungible once our utility is exhausted - our data mined. The idea that anyone is in charge is ludicrous. "We have to do what we can to survive in this incomprehensible place," he writes. Until - the unspoken half of that dark message goes - we don't. sometimes as A reader it's exhilarating to run loose in a scattershot thriller of ideas. Sometimes we want the opposite. Lisa Jewell's WATCHING YOU (Atria, $26) is the work of an astute, meticulous midcareer professional, solid as a rock; there's something just as satisfying about a Tim Duncan bank shot as a fallaway Manu Ginobili three. "Watching You," set in England, starts in "a kitchen like a million other kitchens all across the country." This one is at least temporarily distinctive, however, because it has a corpse in it. Whose? Jewell's not telling - "Watching You" is as much of a who-died as a whodunit. What the author does reveal is that a tassel from the boot of a young neighbor named Joey Mullen sits in the blood nearby. Joey is impulsive and directionless, living with her new husband - picked up in Ibiza - at her more collected older brother's house. Quickly and assuredly, Jewell builds an ecosystem of countervailing suspicions on the Bristol street where they live. There's Tom Fitzwilliam, the appealing but possibly predatory headmaster at the local school, his awkward wife, a paranoid single mother a few houses down - and so on. Something funny happens about halfway through "Watching You." Already an engaging thriller, it becomes a moving one as well when its focus shifts to two teenagers living on Joey's street, Jenna and Freddie. Jenna lives alone with that paranoid mom, and despite being pretty and sociable, feels, too often, "a terrible hollowness open up inside her, a sense that she was all alone, that she had in fact always been all alone, that the corners of her life were folding in and folding in, and that there was nothing she could do about it." Then there's Freddie, friendless and odd, watching Jenna from his window, who might say something similar if he could articulate it. Adolescence and the novel have always been well-suited partners, sharing an air of growth, of privacy. As Jenna and Freddie turn detective, "Watching You" reaches both a tricky, clever, unexpected ending, and lands a final turn on a surprisingly affecting and sensitive revelation of autism. In her 18th book, Jewell does little spectacularly but everything well - a pro's pro. It seems there's at least one good plotter out there. if "watching YOU" has a precise identity, THE CURRENT (Algonquin, $27.95), by the best-selling literary suspense novelist Tim Johnston, is tougher to assess. The tale of parallel drownings in a frozen Minnesota river 10 years apart, it has the atmosphere of an A.A. meeting: rueful, solemn, suffused with shy and tender hopes. There's a burdensome, long-winded seriousness to it, but Johnston writes in gracefully exact language with genuine heart. A reader who either dismisses or exalts this book too quickly is making a mistake. "The Current" begins with two college students driving north. Audrey Sutter's father is dying of cancer, and her friend Caroline offers to take her home. After being assaulted by two young men at a gas station, Audrey and Caroline speed away, breathlessly grateful, until they get stuck on a bridge. A car comes along the highway - the men's? - and tips them into the rapids. It's a situation unhappily analogous to the death of a girl named Holly Burke, and her father, Gordon, is one of the central characters of "The Current." The other is Sheriff Sutter, Audrey's dying father, who handled the Burke case. Johnston is excellent at the mechanics of a thriller, but hides his adroitness between long stretches of rumination. (Glance at a page of "The Current" and there's a decent chance you won't see any dialogue.) Of its dual main characters, one, Sutter, is beautifully wrought; the other, Gordon, too often overwrought. The book's women are, like those orbiting the politicians who gravely remind us that they're fathers and husbands and sons, mainly supernumeraries of the male struggle. Wait, capitalize that: the Male Struggle. "If you're gonna slug me, go ahead and slug me," a suspect in Holly's death tells Gordon. "What makes you think I'm gonna slug you?" he replies. "Those two fists at the end of your arms." Exchanges like this could nearly turn you against "The Current." But its feelingness, its deliberative dexterity of plotting, its insights into grief and loss, are at their best reminiscent of writers like Annie Proulx and Richard Bausch. In a more compact, narrative-driven novel, Johnston might be a writer to create a work of art. in almost perfect contrapuntal reply to the gravities of "The Current," there's Lyndsay Faye's THE PARAGON HOTEL (Putnam, $26) - a lovable muddle of a book, which for the demographic of readers whose hearts it captures will seem as utterly winning as anything that comes out in 2019. As for the readers who wouldn't like it, they're probably trying to get you to switch to vinyl. Don't worry about them. Faye is an author of first-rate historical fiction, including several excellent riffs on the Sherlock Holmes canon. In this novel, she alights in Oregon in 1921, where a woman named Alice James stumbles off a sleeper train, gutshot, barely alive, and splendidly dressed. A handsome porter named Max takes pity on Alice, bringing her to the book's title hotel, whose clientele is otherwise exclusively black. Here, Alice - fleeing from the mob, it emerges, her already chameleon-like character in desperate search of its real depths - recovers slowly, while more speedily inserting herself into the hotel's various dramas. All of these are shadowed by the ferocious racism in Oregon, which Faye carefully highlights with historical quotations at the head of each chapter - many of them to do with Portland's flourishing chapter of the K.K.K. "The Paragon Hotel" is just a little bit at war with itself. Alice narrates the book in galloping flapper banter, and the characters surrounding her respond in kind, all equally witty, like the troupe in a Noel Coward play. That doesn't change even when Davy, the ward of a nightclub singer named Blossom, disappears; the book's single register is too light and crystalline to stretch around its substantial themes. But Faye writes a good puzzle, and more important, she has the dash of a real writer - which is not to say simply a published writer, but a person meant to write, who thinks and jokes and understands by writing. It's a rare gift. Max's laugh is "a spill of light," Alice tells us; the loss of a safe haven as a child "carves a canyon through a person." Her mother's wry verdict on her father: "He was a ray o' sun, but the sun goes down." What lasts in the reader's mind after "The Paragon Hotel" ends is this voice. In one scene, Alice drinks "Darjeeling spiked with rum," and that could serve as a metaphor for this book's joyful, righteous, fearless flavor. At this strange, slow-burning moment in history, most of us would probably like to have such confidence. And probably also a cup of that tea. CHARLES finch is a literary critic and novelist whose next book, "The Vanishing Man," will be published on Feb. 19.


Library Journal Review

In 1921, Alice "Nobody" James, who is white, escapes her life as a New York Mafia gun moll with a bullet-shaped souvenir in her side. Hopping a train to anywhere, she meets African American train porter Max, who notes her condition and guides her to the Paragon Hotel, the only all-black hotel in Portland, OR. The owner, Dr. Pendleton, treats Alice even though it's dangerous for black men to associate with white women. So begins Alice's stay at the Paragon, where the residents have their own problems, with the Ku Klux Klan gaining popularity and dead animals left at their door. Alice uses her former skills to aid in the most heart-wrenching problem of all: finding the missing mixed-race boy Davy Lee before the Klan does. Faye ("Timothy Wilde" series; Jane Steele) has meticulously researched the racial tensions and social culture of 1920s Portland, basing the Paragon Hotel on the real Golden West Hotel. Her prose is lush with details, from rich descriptions of the hotel rooms and a diva's Paris gown to citing interesting colloquialisms. VERDICT A treat for those who enjoyed Faye's other novels, as well as fans of historical crime/thrillers.-Jennifer Funk, McKendree Univ. Lib., Lebanon, IL © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

F One F   NOW   New York probably is infested with as savage a horde of cut-throats, rats, treacherous gunmen and racketeers as ever swarmed upon a rich and supine principality.   -Stanley Walker, The Night Club Era, 1933   U   Sitting against the pillows of a Pullman sleeper, bones clacking like the pistons of the metal beast speeding me westward, I wonder if I'm going to die.   The walls of my vibrating coffin are polished mahogany, windows spotless, reflecting onyx midnight presently. I've been watching them for several days. When I wasn't switching trains, which was its own jostling hell and doesn't bear repeating.   Does Salt Lake City ever bear repeating, really?   I don't even suppose I took the fastest route cross-country. So long as I was always moving. I remember fleeing New York, still adrift with the shock. Battling sucking currents of lost love and lost city dragging me under. Changing at Chicago I remember-the hustle, the weight of all that metal, the sheer rank sweat of making the connection. I recall prim forests, sloping hills. Downy wheat tufts, crops we tore through like an iron bomb, and desolate empty skies. Big burgs, shabby shacks, towns undeserving of the word, all blurring into America.   But at night it's been the black window, the white alcove curtain, smells of cigarettes and pot roast and cold cream, and the fever slick coating my brow confirming that I'm going to die.   I'm in shock, possibly. Despair, certainly.   Now it hits me in a crack of panic that I'd prefer death drop by when I'm ninety and not twenty-five, supposing it's all the same to the Harding administration.   Panting, I tug at my hair. The sudden flare momentarily douses the fire in other locales. I wonder when my bunkmate will return to torment me. I wouldn't have taken a sleeping car if I hadn't been forced-acquaintances are dangerous. They pore over your mug out of sheer boredom, make remarks like God, isn't our porter just dreadful, these sheets are barely tucked in. They don't give a knotted cherry stem what you think of the porter, they can't really see him anyhow. No, they hanker to watch you react to them. Then they can journal it, whether you're haughty or humble or hateful. Whether you're all right.   Whether you're not all right, which is ever so much more interesting.   Dangerous, what with death and dismemberment potentially in hot pursuit. I couldn't go full-scale deluxe, though. A private car would have been checked first by someone searching this train, any cadet axman would chart the same course. Private cars, sleeping cars, then public seating. Maybe I ought to lend a hand to the brakeman, trade a few dirty jokes in exchange for a hiding place.   If only I could dangle from the undercarriage like a bat.   The bullet wound deposited in Harlem started reaping interest in Chicago, and now we're well past Walla Walla and it's aiming to make me a swell payout. Last time I staggered to the facilities, it looked like a volcano had erupted, crusted reds and blacks. Now it's eating me alive. I can't sit up in a public car. Has to be a sleeper, has to be this one; I leaped on this connecting train in Denver like an outlaw onto the town's last nag.   My heart isn't beating, it's clenching its fist at me.   Clamp-clinch. Clutch-grip.   Beastly. Tears keep welling up and my throat keeps closing, and no, I say.   You're called Nobody for a reason. Just be yourself. Be Nobody.   Be Nobody, and breathe.   Having died before, I ought to be more sanguine over the prospect. I first died six days ago at the Murder Stable, when Officer Harry Chipchase hustled me out of that gruesome dungeon, snapping, "Run, kid!"   "But I-"   "Damn it, Nobody, hitch a ride to the moon. You're dead to this town now, you hear?" Harry was always dour, but I'd never seen his face turned the color of molding cheese previous. "I swear to you, I'll find a body somewheres. Trust me, kid. You died today. Now, run."   Portland, Oregon, is as far as I can think of from New York, New York. Still. It might not be far enough. If I can get to Portland, he can track me there. In 1921, you can get practically anywhere with a little jack jingling in your pocket.   I identify a faint, floating nausea not confined to just my belly. My skin is actually queasy. Tiny ripples pass along it as if my body is a river. That's new. I don't much care for new things just now.   Rat-a-tat-tat.   Terror gushes, but I choke out a "Come in?"   The paneled door slides, and I exhale. It isn't my forced companion-she must still be gossiping in the dining car. She retires around one a.m., is up with the dawn. It's only Max, our Pullman porter. Real warmth seeps into my skin again.   Max. He's not the blackest of the lot, he's a sweet rum color, but plenty black enough to play this godforsaken gig. His eyes are wide set, an amber tone below philosophical brows, and he has large hands I figure ought to be playing music someplace daylight never visits. Maybe thirty years old. He sells phonograph records on the side to the travelers, and I bought one. "Crazy Blues" by Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds. Max was tickled to pieces-hell, he'd have put on a parade if I'd admitted I'd seen Mamie play live. But the purchase was enough. Small things like that make people cotton to you.   "Miss James?"   I'm tempted to say, Call me Alice, but they don't do that sort of thing on Pullman trains. In fact, I'm meant to call him George, after George Pullman, because George Pullman is the type so steeped in Christian humility that he orders all the Negroes on his trains renamed George. Bet he could charm the skin off a tomato in person.   "Hullo, Max. Here for the trapeze act?"   Then I wink at him. It feels a bit less like dying on a train car.   Anyway, Max is safe. He has a purebred Brooklyn accent, and we picked him up in Chicago at the transfer, which is how I figure he's so musical. Hell of a sideline record stock he displayed for a fellow who fluffs pillows. I like the version of Nobody I can be with Max. She claims to be an easygoing flapper on the run from a dreadfully cruel gentleman caller, Yonkers born, midlevel typist, interested in jazz but doesn't know much yet. Likes the Greenwich speakeasies that look like tearooms. Terribly droll those, likes to chew the fat about the latest plays over Darjeeling spiked with bootleg rum. Likes cats. That sort.   "'Scuse me for saying so, but you're looking real poorly, Miss James." Max glances behind himself.   "Well, I'm in Oregon, you see."   He exposes the glint of a flask in his pocket.   "Oh God," I gasp. The pain flares up again, rich and real. "Name your price."   "Take it easy," he says quietly. "Settle down and have a snort on the house."   Angels sing faint arias. I don't dawdle over finding out what it is before I guzzle the stuff. Good corn liquor, not the best but not cheap hooch either, small-batch operation. Pure Midwestern moonshine. The drink cuts a rug through my veins.   "Beg pardon, but this louse hurt you real bad, didn't he, Miss James?" Max's genuine frown sticks me right in the chest.   Well, yes, Nicolo Benenati shot a small-caliber bullet that grazed my torso like a neat little sewing stitch, out the other side, so it was more of a lark than it could have been, and I got the wound to stop bleeding a few hours afterward, happy day.   Hissing, I force my eyes shut until I'm less set on weeping all over Max, because it simply will not do. I like him. I like him awfully. I like his smooth brown lips and his wise-guy jabs and the way his eyelashes fan. I like his quiet magnetism. I like how he reminds me of someone.   Your nickname is Nobody, remember. Nobody at all.   "The trapeze act isn't very cheery tonight," I admit.   "Aw, look, there's a doctor over in car three, and we can-"   "No doctor."   "Why's that, miss?"   "Because this is very silly nonsense, just an attack of nerves, probably, touch of stomachache, and I'm being a wretched little idiot. How long until Portland?"   "We'll be there before dawn."   "You're a dear."   "When we pull in," I think Max says, his vowels thick and strong as big city blocks, "you're coming with me, all right? I know a girl what don't fancy a regular-type doctor when I see one. You'll be just fine, Miss James. I'm gonna make sure."   Nobody the sweet flapper would answer him, I think, but by now I live in a different world than he does, a seasick haze of nothing at all.     When I wake up, my bunkmate has returned. Looking dreadfully hopeful of conversation, and here IÕm fresh out of the stuff. And probably about to lose consciousness again.   "Oh, Miss James, you are pale. Should I fetch you some ginger ale?"   Hearing Mrs. Muriel Snider speak, I reflect, is better than being shot. But not by a terribly wide margin.   "You're so kind, but I couldn't possibly put you to the trouble." I offer her a shy smile.   Really, I've been doing a crackerjack job at not looking agonized.   Mrs. Muriel Snider has a face that makes me figure God took His inspiration from a potato. She's sedately dressed in a brown traveling suit when she isn't sedately dressed in a nightgown, and I'd wager that she's sedately dressed in a bathing costume when taking a bath. The Nobody I am with her is fluttery and inexperienced, hinted she met with an embarrassing riding accident, devoutly Protestant, anxious whether she's authoritative enough when giving her piano lessons, thinks grape juice should be served at all religious services including the Jewish ones, embarrassed to be unmarried. Knitter. That sort.   Thankfully, after stanching the bleeding left by the slug, I wore my most invisible duds. So she can't fault this Nobody for being in the wrong clothes. It's a below-the-knee skirt and a belted jacket in quiet shepherd check. And my honey-blond hair is bobbed, but long enough I can pin it so no one notices.   "Anyhow, we're almost there, I hope?"   She checks her watch. "Oh, yes, dear. Are you sure you don't want me to bring you some hot milk, perhaps? I wouldn't trust this George of ours to get the temperature right."   Smiling again, I picture round after round from a tommy gun shattering her skull, smash-crack, blood soaring like a startled flock of redbirds.   It isn't like me. I'm not violent. But I'm in an awfully bad mood.   "This late, it'll only upset my digestion, I fear."   "Heavens, yes, I never noticed how long I was gone, for the kindest Presbyterian minister and his new wife were in the dining car-she's already expecting just before their first anniversary, and I was fit to bursting with happiness for them! And with the amount of advice I have to offer, having raised six of my own alongside Fred? The poor young dear simply peppered me with questions."   She removes her jewelry, puts it carefully in her handbag, and sniffs as she locks the satchel, placing it behind her pillow. The lengths I go to ignore her are positively transcontinental.   "You're such a comfort, you know, Miss James. Forgive me for being this direct, but so many young women have abandoned the ideals of motherhood and child-rearing. Anyhow, I wanted to tell you that I trust in you, truly, to find a proper mate. It's nothing to be ashamed of, dear, being a tad plain, a bit forgettable. That requires moral courage, you know, and someday the right man will take notice. Just you trust in God and in His timing."   The genuine smile that pools over my face pleases her. I'm recalling sitting at the Tobacco Club with Mr. Salvatici, wearing a House of Worth gown. It plunged in great V's down my chest and my back, neckline bordered in a thick stripe of golden beadwork that made my carefully curled hair gleam like Broadway at midnight. The loose bodice fell in pale sea-breeze greens and blues, dripping sequined bubbles into an underskirt of aqua tulle, and when I threw back my head and laughed from heavily rouged lips, only six or seven hundred people that night looked at me at all.   If I'd wanted to get storked, I could have done it when I was seventeen. I wear a rubber womb veil, thank you-all the fast girls do, and the careless ones have been more than once to the lady doctor who solves their problems. She takes a vacation every Christmas to shore up her energies for the post-New Year's stampede. No kidding. A lot has changed since the War. Since Prohibition.   Since six days ago.   If I must die, let it be in a city. Nobody dead nowhere is too much punishment. So let it be in Portland, I decide, wondering how far I can make it until dissolving into ocean foam like some mermaids of note who weren't loved in return either.     When we arrive, itÕs still dark.   Clash-ring. Grate-scrape. Whistle blast.   Now my head is pounding, and I dread what happens next with all that's left of my heart.   Here's mud in your eye.   Sitting up, I use my arms mainly, and I don't shriek over the sensation. Markedly unpleasant though it is.   "Well, you simply must contact me when you're feeling better, Miss James," Mrs. Snider fusses. "I think we could be great friends despite the difference in our ages. My husband, Fred, is a member of the Arlington Club, and you seem of such good stock, I imagine he must know your parents already. Which is their congregation?"   "Oh . . . my parents are poor farmers some sixty miles outside the city. I send them whatever I can from my own income as a music teacher. In fact, I'm still very new to Portland. I miss them, and the farm, just . . . just terribly."   When she raises her eyebrows, it's as if a cardboard box lifted its lid. "You dear, sweet soul. Please look me up-the right connections mean everything. And there are a great many young bachelor gentlemen of our acquaintance with sober and pleasing ways! Here is my card-"   As I'm taking it, resenting the extra weight of carrying so much as her printed name, a polite knock sounds.   By now my pulse is too feeble to blaze up into genuine panic and gives a flicker of dismay instead. But it's Max again. He's wearing a chocolate-brown hat that suits his lighter complexion and a beige trench that matches the pale leather of his luggage. His eyes dart, identify the olive coat I'd hung and forgotten, and he snatches it up, draping it respectfully over my shoulders. Excerpted from The Paragon Hotel: A Novel by Lyndsay Faye All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.