Manhattan ’62, my new book, is set in Greenwich Village in the autumn of 1962, at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In a sense, the Village and the Crisis are both major character, for both influence the action of what is really a thriller rather than a mystery like my Artie Cohen books. Greenwich Village, where I was born and grew up in the 1950s and 60s, was a magical place in those days (and still is, though I confess to extreme prejudice.)
In 1962, the neighborhood was full of musicians, artists, and writers. Along McDougall Street, folkies jammed Caffe Wha and other bars where they listened to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Girls wore brown leather sandals and long hair and boys grew those early wispy beards. It wasn’t only folkies, though. The Village was still full of jazz clubs like the Village Vanguard where Miles Davis was a regular. Barbra Streisand made her debut at the Bon Soir Club on 8th Street. The White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street (one of the few places that still exists), where Dylan Thomas famously drank himself to death in 1953, plays a roll in Manhattan ’62; among the regulars were James Baldwin and Norman Mailer. Political fights broke out regularly. The Village, as everyone called it—and still does—was the most free-wheeling place in America.
I had long wanted to set a book here, but it was only when I realized I could use those thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis—the most terrifying time ever in American history—for a plot that it began to come together.
It really begins when Pat Wynne, a young Irish cop with a taste for the pleasures of Greenwich Village, runs into Maxim Ostalsky, a Soviet exchange student in Washington Square Park. Pat is fascinated by the USSR, and through Max he gets a sense of what it’s like. They become friends. Then a dead Cuban is found near the High Line, the old freight railroad, (that is now the newest and loveliest park) in New York. Max Ostalsky is accused of the murder. As tensions rise over the murder and the Missile Crisis, Pat and Max became first enemies and then, both embattled and on the run, necessary conspirators. What they discover is a terrible plot that, if not dismantled in time, will ensure a nuclear exchanged between the Russians and the Americans.
And although this was a frightening time, it was also a glorious moment in the city. That week Beyond the Fringe opened in New York City. During that week James Brown recorded his most famous album, Live at the Apollo. For me the most fun was setting a critical scene where Max and Pat find themselves hiding backstage while James Brown dances and sings and howls and pleads, “Please please please.”
Manhattan 62 is published by Atlantic