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The Night Inspector
FREDERICK BUSCH

The Night Inspector by Frederick Busch
32 reviews (1999) (304p)
National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction Finalist
PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist

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Book Description
An immensely powerful story, The Night Inspector follows the extraordinary life of William Bartholomew, a maimed veteran of the Civil War, as he returns from the battlefields to New York City, bent on reversing his fortunes. It is there he meets Jessie, a Creole prostitute who engages him in a venture that has its origins in the complexities and despair of the conflict he has left behind. He also befriends a deputy inspector of customs named Herman Melville who, largely forgotten as a writer, is condemned to live in the wake of his vanished literary success and in the turmoil of his fractured family.

Delving into the depths of this country's heart and soul, Frederick Busch's stunning novel is a gripping portrait of a nation trying to heal from the ravages of war--and of one man's attempt to recapture a taste for life through the surging currents of his own emotions, ambitions, and shattered conscience.


Amazon.com Review
In his fiction, at least, Frederick Busch is no stranger to the Victorian era: his 1978 novel The Mutual Friend was a meticulous reconstruction of the Dickensian universe, right down to the last wisp of pea-soup fog. In The Night Inspector, he ventures an equally deep immersion in the past. This time, however, Busch takes us to post-Civil-War Manhattan, where a disfigured veteran named William Bartholomew rages against the Gilded Age--even as he demands remuneration for his own losses.

And what exactly has the narrator lost? As we learn in a sequence of flashbacks, Bartholomew served as a Union sniper, picking off stray Confederate soldiers in an extended bout of psychological warfare. Eventually, though, he received a taste of his own medicine, when a enemy bullet destroyed most of his face. Outfitted with an eerie papier-mâché mask, Bartholomew tends to shock postwar observers into silence:

I imagine I understand their reaction: the bright white mask, its profound deadness, the living eyes beneath--within--the holes, the sketched brows and gashed mouth, airholes embellished, a painting of a nose.... Nevertheless. I won this on your behalf, I am tempted to cry, or pretend to. The specie of the nation, the coin of the realm, our dyspeptic economy, the glister and gauge of American gold: I was hired to wear it!
Bartholomew has, it should be obvious, a formidable mastery of rhetoric. It's appropriate, then, that he should hook up with that supreme exponent of the American baroque, Herman Melville--who at this point is a burnt-out customs inspector (and candidate for some Victorian 12-step plan). Together these outcasts embark upon a plan to rescue a group of black children from their Florida servitude. This caper--along with Bartholomew's attachment to a gold-hearted, elaborately tattooed prostitute--allows the novel to veer in the direction of the penny dreadful. Yet Busch's mastery of period detail, and of the very shape of century-old syntax, remains extraordinary on every page. And true to its title, The Night Inspector is a superb investigation of darkness--in both the physical and psychological sense. "I was reckless," the narrator insists, "and born with great vision though not, alas, of the interior, spiritual sort." By the end of the novel, most readers will decide that he's undersold himself. --Bob Brandeis


Other Award Winning Books by Frederick Busch
Don't Tell Anyone by Frederick Busch
4 reviews (2000) (336p) (ALA)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
The Children in the Woods by Frederick Busch
5 reviews (1994) (352p) (PF)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page

Frederick Busch Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 4  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 3  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 1 The Night Inspector ·  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 0  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 2 The Children in the Woods · The Night Inspector ·  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award

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Pulitzer Prize | National Book Critics Circle Award | National Book Award | PEN/Faulkner Award | Man Booker Prize | Contact