“Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire” by Shane White
$27.99 / $32.50 Canada
Your numbers weren’t picked last night.
Ah, another worthless lottery ticket. No shopping spree or mortgage payoff for you. You’ll have to go to work and get your incredible wealth just like everybody else. Or, as you’ll read in “Prince of Darkness” by Shane White, you could become rich the old-fashioned way: through grift.
Though he showed up in New York City in the wake of scandal, nobody knew for sure where Jeremiah G. Hamilton had come from. Some sources said he was born in the Caribbean – which he admitted to, but he also claimed Richmond, Virginia, as his first home. Nobody knew, though, because Hamilton, an African American man, spent most of his adult life hiding facts and creating fiction.
Wherever he got his start, Hamilton launched himself early: in 1828, and “barely into his twenties,” he was involved in a counterfeit scam in Haiti that would’ve meant death, had he been caught. With the help of locals, however, he escaped and arrived in “Gotham,” but not without notice: newspapers of the day splashed the story, but Hamilton managed to keep mum on who’d helped him.
Almost immediately, he started borrowing money in a “frenetic, almost desperate” way, money he had no intention of paying back, which ultimately landed Hamilton in court: there were at least ten lawsuits against him between 1830 and 1835, and there may’ve been more. Then came The Great Fire of 1835 in which “dozens of acres” of Manhattan were burned to the ground, along with the records of several businessmen who’d been convinced to invest with him. Hamilton denied the transactions, kept their $25,000, and gained the moniker of “Prince of Darkness.”
For the rest of his life – even after being forced to declare bankruptcy – Hamilton always landed on his feet, “shunned” other African Americans, and even invested in companies that overtly practiced racism. He died in 1875 in a “comfortable and elegant” residence he shared with his white wife and family.
So why are history books silent on Hamilton’s story? That’s a question author Shane White had, after he discovered Hamilton’s name and began digging. Could it have been due to the color of Hamilton’s skin?
It’s possible, White says, but in “Prince of Darkness,” he also indicates that the lack of documentation may’ve been because Hamilton rankled white financiers and investors, and didn’t appear to care that he’d done so. That insouciance, in light of the racism that Hamilton surely endured, would be an interesting story itself but White embellishes the tale with an abundance of history and extensive biographies of other influential people of Hamilton’s time. That’s good – to a point – but it occasionally can also makes this book deadly dull. I found my mind wandering much more than I might’ve liked.
So is this book worth reading? I think so, but you may want to give it a rest now and then to regenerate yourself. Start it, take a break, repeat as necessary and you might find “Prince of Darkness” to be just the ticket.
“One Night” by Eric Jerome Dickey
c.2015, Dutton $26.95 / $31.00 Canada 357 pages
Would you look at that.
Actually, probably, you already have. You’re one of the most observant people you know, never missing a thing, always noticing. You make a great witness because you see everything. And in the new book “One Night” by Eric Jerome Dickey, you see two people about to make a mistake.
It was pouring rain that evening and it perfectly matched her mood.
Once she’d been a comedian and an actress. She’d been someone’s mother but now she was dressed in a pilfered shirt from an electronics store, driving a stolen truck and trying to con somebody into paying for a box of rocks because the rent was due and she didn’t have it. The man putting gas in his expensive car looked like an easy mark.
He had a bruise over his eye, which was fine: she had a bruised heart. She offered the box for sale and he handed her the money, knowing full well that it was a con. He also handed her a business card with an Orange County number before he drove off. She knew he wouldn’t get far; L.A. traffic was backed up, police were everywhere, sirens blasting. Her boyfriend wasn’t answering his phone, so she dialed the man’s number to explain that conning really wasn’t what she was all about.
He was skeptical. She challenged him to meet her at a diner.
Dinner was strained but pleasant, a get-to-know-you where very little information was exchanged. She didn’t want to be alone; he didn’t want to go home to a wife he no longer loved, so they went to a movie before he kissed her in a way she’d never been kissed. She was the first to mention a hotel. He paid for the luxury room.
She thought she’d been in love before: with the father of her daughter, certainly with her daughter but she’d never been with a man who did to her what the man from Orange County did. He made her moan and call out things that she didn’t know she had a voice for calling.
It was only supposed to be a one-night stand. But she wasn’t being entirely truthful with him. And he definitely wasn’t telling her everything, either…
Let’s start here: “One Night” is steamy. Like, burn-your-mind, hott-with-two-Ts steamy.
But it’s not just that. Author Eric Jerome Dickey ekes this novel out slowly, minute-by-minute, like a slow dance between two people who aren’t forthcoming with facts to one another – or to readers. That can be snail-like, but it’s also fascinating: we know there’s something we’re not quite seeing, but we’re too distracted by the tryst to figure it out – that is, until Dickey repeatedly interrupts the action with smartly-timed shocks that reset everything.
There are a few moments of silliness in this book but overall, I couldn’t let it go and if you can handle the lengthy bedroom scenes, you won’t be able to, either. For readers who crave a boatload of spice with their novels, “One Night” is worth two looks.