Speak Softly

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Teddy (known as T.R.) and his capable assistants search long and hard for a connection between several brutal murders. Each time, on the wall near the victim’s body is a careful imprint of a black hand. New York’s Italian community is not talking, and the Chinese are saying even less; what is worse, F.D.R., a teenager at school, has received a letter bearing the imprint of the black hand and instructing him to turn over shares before a specified date. What shares? Turn over to whom? Did the murder victims also have shares, presumably stock, in the same company? How does the sinking of the General Baines, in which more than one hundred people lost their lives, tie in with these questions?

After much frustration, T.R. finds a vital clue: The victims were trading partners in China during difficult times, as was F.D.R.’s grandfather, Warren Delano. All worked for the same company, now defunct, and dealt in opium. T.R. realizes that one by one the remaining partners are being killed, so he gathers them at his famous country house, Sagamore Hill, for safekeeping while he stalks the unknown murderer. Even this, however, is not enough.

Alexander seamlessly blends real people with fictional characters. The reader meets Eleanor Roosevelt and watches her and Franklin’s love begin to bloom. Feisty Alice is in rare form, and Jacob Riis is T.R.’s constant companion. The atmosphere in New York in 1895, from its polluted waters to its coach-jammed streets, is a delight. The climax is a corker, but one expects nothing less of the man with the foghorn voice and glittering teeth. This is the second “Theodore Roosevelt Mystery,” and it is “bully!”