Spufford is a journalist with a lot of non-fiction under his belt but this is his first novel. One critic calls it the best eighteenth century novel written since the eighteenth century. It’s New York in the 1740s; a young Englishman turns up with a draft for £1000 and a mission, which he isn’t willing to divulge to anyone, least of all the reader. As it takes a while for the financiers of New York to produce a sum that large, there is a novel’s worth of making friends, making enemies and generally making his mark in the colony. Spufford does a very nice job (in my layman’s opinion) of combining eighteenth century style and twenty first century sensibilities so as to make the novel readable without being anachronistic. Because I want you all to read it, I won’t say what Smith’s secret mission is, but I think you will approve.
Golden Hill is a district of New York, though Spufford admits cheerfully that as this era New York was almost completely destroyed by fire and there aren’t any maps of it, he can portray it as he likes. Though it’s probably historically accurate that there really was a bowling green at Bowling Green, and the Broad Way is a cart track leading out of the settlement and into the northern wilderness of Manhattan.