THE SOCIETY REVIEWS: Jonathan Lee's The Great Mistake

Published on June 15, Jonathan Lee’s intricate and innovative The Great Mistake has its roots in the life of Andrew Haswell Green, the New York civic leader known as the force behind iconic city settings including Central Park. Lee moves back and forth in time to chronicle Green’s life; his mysterious death by gunshot in 1903 by an assailant who, historical records suggest, mistook him for someone else; and the subsequent probe of Green’s murder. Lee illuminates Green as a man who has both a highly respected public reputation and a complex, constrained and somewhat yearning private existence. New York at the turn of the century too is evoked with energy, richness, and wonderful prose. The segments of the novel that imagine the investigation of Green’s death are perhaps the novel’s most purely entertaining, thanks to the ebulliently odd, colorful characters of police inspector McCluskey and wealthy madam Bessie Davis. But it’s Lee’s expansive look at Green’s life, rather than death, that offers its most touching as well as most thought-provoking material. “It was a cathedral of possibilities ...” Lee has Green think of New York; “it might remember him or it might forget him.” It has indeed, largely, forgotten him, making Lee’s fictional vision all the more welcome. Lee is one of those authors who craft a really different book each time: 2016's High Dive, for example, concerns a would-be bombing in 1984 Brighton. I'm truly delighted that he turned his unique and insightful eye into "my" corner of the past this time around. 

The Great Mistake appeared from Knopf on June 15, 2021 and can be purchased through Amazon,, and your local bookstore.