Bee King by Publisher: Soul Attitude Press, LLC
Date Published: July 6, 2019
Genre: Historical Psychological Mystery
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Bee King is a historical psychological novel about the first person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in the United States. It takes place in lower Manhattan from the start of the Civil War until 1910. Just like the people who inhabited Five Points during the 1800s and the turn of the century, Bee King traverses the pentagonal streets where abolitionists battled copperheads, immigrants clashed among social, religious and political strife, and doctors and psychologists strained to help patients. Told in Five Points (sections), Bee King is dramatized through conventional literary devices as well as through newspaper articles, a manifesto, and other non-traditional tools.

William Henley and Noble Jennings have been best friends since they were in an orphanage together. As adults, Noble is charged with murder. William, a successful attorney, defends his friend using the novel defense of early on-set dementia. Bee King is a tapestry loosely told through the framework of Noble’s trial and from kaleidoscopic points of view.

The novelweaves together an ensemble of real and fictional characters that include Dr. Alois Alzheimer; Dr. Levi Solomon Fuller, the first black American psychiatrist; Peggy Fuller, a journalist who publishes her crime reporting under a male pseudonym; Sarah, a mulatto woman who cares for her brain damaged mother; Tammany Hall racists; Jenny Big Stink, a drug dealing fish peddler; Lonny Massacre, a serial killer; and more. Their struggles and successes intertwine to tell Noble’s story, as well as their own.

In 1852, Timothy Byrne first came to America with the rest of the Famine Irish and was met at the docks by Tammany thugs looking to recruit the newest wave of strong lads. Through his loyalty to Boss Tweed and henchmen like Peter Stout, he became a police officer and a proud copperhead. Graft and murder were his calling cards, with no repercussions for his actions. Not when he hit poor Alice over the head with his billy stick, not when he arrested innocent fourteen-year-old Noble for starting the Colored Orphan Asylum fire, and not when, as police chief of New York City, he murdered a gay boy.

Jump forward to 1906 and fifty-nine-year-old Noble is lost in Five Points, unaware of the tangles in his brain. It is an unseasonably frigid April evening and he does not recognize where he is. Later that evening, Noble comes upon a crowd of gawkers who surround an unfortunate gent whose life has been crushed. It looks like the work of Lonny “Massacre” Mandell, but the serial killer has been in prison for twenty years. Is there a copy killer roaming the city streets? Police Commissioner Byrne arrives at the scene and accuses Noble of being the copyist killer. Noble is arrested and confesses. With the help of Dr. Alzheimer in Germany and Dr. Fuller in America, William mounts the original defense of pre-senile dementia and fights for Noble’s life.

Braided within Noble’s story is that of William and apartment 5C where William and other prominent members of the New York City elite indulge in the use of opioids to increase their intellects, of Jenny Big Stink who feels responsible for Alice’s injury, of Sarah—Alice’s daughter—who must forgo her dreams of becoming an actress to parent her mother, of Peggy Fuller, an asexual who is a “beard” to cover Dr. Fuller’s homosexuality, of John No Legs, Simon Black Cat, and others.

As vivid as the characters are in Bee King, lower Manhattan and the cultural and social history of five decades stand as three-dimensional characters on their own. Abraham Lincoln fights to end slavery. Immigrants volley to make livings in the narrow and crowded thoroughfares. Doctors must help patients without proper tools. Psychological breakthroughs have not yet arrived. The streets are alive, and they are glorious and dangerous.

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Joanne Lewis

Bee King