Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
Empire Rising

Empire Rising

A Novel

Thomas Kelly

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



A Novel of High-Stakes Romance and Betrayal, Set During the Race to Finish the World's Tallest Building

In Empire Rising, his extraordinary third book, Thomas Kelly tells a story of love and work, of intrigue and jealousy, with the narrative verve that led the Village Voice's reviewer to dub him "Dostoevsky with a hard hat and lead pipe."
As the novel opens, it is 1930-the Depression-and ground has just been broken for the Empire State Building. One of the thousands of men erecting the building high above the city is Michael Briody, an Irish immigrant torn between his desire to make a new life in America and his pledge to gather money and arms for the Irish republican cause. When he meets Grace Masterson, an alluring artist who is depicting the great skyscraper's ascent from her houseboat on the East River, Briody's life turns exhilarating-and dangerous, for Grace is also a paramour of Johnny Farrell, Mayor Jimmy Walker's liaison with Tammany Hall and the underworld.
Their heartbreaking love story-which takes place both in the immigrant neighborhoods of the Bronx and amid the swanky nightlife of the '21' Club--is also a chronicle of the city's rough passage from a working-class enclave to a world-class metropolis, and a vivid reimagining of the conflict that pitted the Tammany Hall political machine and its popular mayor against the boundlessly ambitious Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Colin Harrison, in The New York Times Book Review, called Kelly's The Rackets "A well-paced, violent thriller, [and] an elegy for the city's old Irish working class." In Empire Rising, Kelly takes his work to a new level: telling of the story of the people who built the "eighth wonder of the world," he makes old New York the setting for a rich and unforgettable story.


Praise for Empire Rising

“Thomas Kelly knows how to tell a story. Empire Rising is a vivid, evocative, enthralling tale of gangsters, pols, an enduring New York mystery, and the hard, joyful work of building the Empire State Building. This is historical fiction writing at its best.” —Kevin Baker, author of Paradise Alley

“In Empire Rising Thomas Kelly looks backwards and forwards at the same time: he knows the value of who we once were and the possibility of what we might still become. At the heart of this audacious novel is a unique love story between two 1930's immigrants, a beautiful young artist and an ironworker, both so compellingly drawn that one almost forgets the scaffolds which hold them together: corruption, power, greed, art and desire. Great buildings, like great stories, are created layer upon layer. While the Empire State Building rises to dominate the New York skyline, Kelly gives vent to human loves and disappointments in this, an American story that will be recognized everywhere.” —Colum McCann, author of Dancer and This Side of Brightness

“Empire Rising is, at bottom, a love story, told by one of my favorite authors: a writer of candor, grace, wit, and skill, who writes about the characters who make New York what it was and always will be: a place where the unique spirit of the Irish hovers over every sidewalk, building, street, and alleyway.” —James McBride, author of The Color of Water

“Tom Kelly's labors in Empire Rising recall those he chronicles in the creation of New York City's signature skyscraper, piling mind over matter and then matter over mind, until we reach striking heights. It is where the old world met the New Deal, and was bloodied into something better. This is an honest book, observed by turns with a cold eye and a kind one, with a tough grip.” —Edward Conlon, author of Blue Blood

n0 Empire Rising is vivid, vibrant, and raw, a story about beauty and corruption, idealism and violence, as intricate as New York City itself.” —Lauren Belfer, author of City of Light

“An audacious and compelling narrative by a master storyteller: tough, tender, and beautifully imagined, this intensely American tale is universal in its scope.” —Joseph O'Connor, author of Star of the Sea

“No writer owns New York . . . [but] Thomas Kelly stakes his claim-on a group, Irish immigrant construction workers, and on a transaction that is central to the political geography of the city: the kickback . . . Compelling . . . The plots barrel along, the characters are wildly colorful-and there is dead-on authenticity to the dialogue and the atmospherics. There is also a bracing, and rare, appreciation for the sheer satisfaction of honest work . . . A big-hearted and admirably ambitious writer . . . Kelly takes lots of chances, drawing his characters broadly, jamming the plots with coincidence, violence and melodrama . . . Kelly's city is palpably alive an passionate.” —Joe Klein, The New York Times Book Review

“Big, bold, bruising novels about the real world of work just don't come along that often. You have to go all the way back to the fiction of Theodore Dreiser to find the mold for this variety of book. And between Dreiser's novels and our own time you won't find all that many books that fit the bill until you get to the recent fiction of the relatively unknown New York writer Thomas Kelly. Kelly's latest novel, his third, takes us, in fact, back almost to the roots of realism as a style, when a certain heat steams up from the page as a wrier tells of things in strong nouns and verbs that demonstrate what makes the world go round . . . It's an engaging book in the grand old realistic tradition, a gripping piece of national history, a nicely felt love story, that takes us into the building sites and busy streets and nightclubs, the bedrooms and backrooms and shops and churches that make up the world of Jimmy Walker's New York, a city of rivets and bullets, kisses and payoffs, that becomes, because of Kelly's convincing storytelling manner, every city. He certainly shows us how it works.” —Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune

Empire Rising is Thomas Kelly's third novel, and his best. It's a great historical thriller filled with grit and atmosphere from the 1930s. It's also a brilliant love story about a building and a city . . . Empire Rising takes [Kelly's] talent to another level.” —Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail

“Engaging.” —Tom Walker, Denver Post

“New York in1930 shines through the pages with high resolution . . . Kelly reveals genuine talent.” —Peter Campion, San Francisco Chronicle

“The poet laureate of hard-hatted working stiffs, Thomas Kelly serves up a tough-'n'-tender thriller.” —Jonathan Miles, Men's Journal

“A tough urban thriller . . . with rich characters, expert pacing and pitch-perfect dialogue, Empire Rising ratchets Kelly's work up a notch.” —Scott Stephens, The Plain Dealer

“A gifted writer . . . Kelly fills his story with a tapestry of characters with rich backgrounds, complex emotions and real motivations . . . Brilliant . . . Well crafted and meticulously thought out.” —Ron Bernas, Detroit Free Press

“A satisfying slice of local historical fiction, the kind that makes you feel mildly educated and thoroughly thrilled.” —William Georgiades, New York Post

“This is a thriller . . . complete with countless betrayals, a car chase and a dramatic rescue at a Long Island Gold Coast mansion.” —Dan Cryer, Newsday

“A superior action novel and a great love story.” —David Keymer, Library Journal (starred review)

“Colorful . . . Enjoyable . . . Fascinating.” —Paige Newman,

“An extraordinary thriller.” —Esquire

“Epic . . . Ambitious . . . The erection of the Empire State Building is . . . a sort of prism through which the reader may view the sweeping changes occurring at the time.” —Adam Dunn,

“This fascinating and highly readable story of the people who built what is sometimes called the eighth wonder of the world is a fitting tribute to that time and place,” —Judi Baxter, PW Daily

“Kelly weaves a fascinating tale that captures the cadences and decadence of art deco New York, where desperate working-class have-nots and powerful elite swells collide violently in a nation on the brink of great change.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A knowledgeable, vigorously detailed portrayal of big-city political and fiscal skullduggery and corruption, featuring a generous host of brawling characters . . . Kelly's mastery of narrative drive holds the attention.” —Kirkus Reviews

“[A] riveting novel evoking in authentic detail the underside of New York City politics . . . Kelly successfully melds actual historical figures and fictional one.” —Brad Hooper, Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Thomas Kelly

Thomas Kelly is the author of The Rackets and Payback. He lives in New York City.

Thomas Kelly

From the Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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