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The Night Inspector

3.45  ·  Rating Details  ·  363 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 295 pages
Published May 2nd 2000 by Ballantine Books (first published 1999)
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Gone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellThe Killer Angels by Michael ShaaraCold Mountain by Charles FrazierTeam of Rivals by Doris Kearns GoodwinThe Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
American Civil War Books
55th out of 222 books — 165 voters
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty  SmithBreakfast at Tiffany's by Truman CapoteExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Tales of New York City
400th out of 994 books — 919 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 927)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Mar 03, 2015 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
”It was the War. The interests of money and the will of our Commander decreed it. Battle for the rights of the industrialists, battle for the rights of the agriculturists, battle on behalf of bullyrag Abe, who saw himself, I insist, as the issue: my will, my national entity, my idea of indivisibility. Crush the farmboys and the desperate Negroes into one another with a thunderclap. And see to it--be sure!--one William Bartholomew receives the national hoofprint in his head. I’m a coin imprinted ...more
A captivating and surprisingly tender account of a man, William Bartholomew, whose soul and face have been terribly scarred by his experience as a sniper in the Civil War. The story reflects the pathways he, as well as New York City itself, takes to recover from the war. He wears a mask or a veil in public, and chooses to live in a seedy, dangerous neighborhood of poor immigrants (Five Corners area), despite a good income from investment schemes. Although he is undermined by frequent flashbacks ...more
This book is gruesome, many gruesome and terrible scenes, hard to read in places.
What I liked about it is that it tells a lot about Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick. Mr. Melville is the Night Inspector in this book, he was in fact a Night Inspector for the port of NY. I googled Mr. Melville to see how much of the information about him in this book is accurate and the author does stick to the facts about Mr. Melville. So that is one of the things I liked about the book.
I also liked the c
Peter Boysen
Mar 05, 2012 Peter Boysen rated it really liked it
If you think about it, it doesn't take very long for Ebenezer Scrooge to mend his ways. True, he does have four ghosts visit him, but he's already crying after the first vision that the Ghost of Christmas Past shows him (no, that's not a pimple, even though he says it is), and while it is true that Christmas Yet to Come threatens him with the grave, there's none of that quintessentially human trait of weakened repentance when the consequence retreats.

No, it just takes one (very busy) night to tu
Mar 13, 2009 Mike rated it it was amazing
A beautiful account of what life may have been like in immediate post-Civil War America. It is a difficult balancing act of a novel as I suspect the feeling was everywhere in the United States at this time.

William Bartholomew is one of the more ambiguous heroes I've come across in literature in a long time. Is he good or just not as bad as the people with whom he associates. His mask is representative of what the United States tried to show to the world, but underneath...a terrribly maimed count
Jul 06, 2010 Tina rated it really liked it
I was impressed by this book in many ways. It teased you with flashbacks that blurred into the present, and the confusing language helped convey the tone of guilt, desolation, and shame the protagonist felt. Billy was a likable, realistic character who elicited sympathy and compassion. I enjoyed the subtle love between him and Chun Ho, and the interesting inclusion of Herman Melville as a character. The book was disturbing as well as exciting, but it was also annoying in certain ways - the writi ...more
Jasmine Alleger
Dec 17, 2014 Jasmine Alleger rated it it was ok
This was my most recent book club selection. I hated it! I thought the rhythm of the writing was distracting and it was unnecessarily gruesome. I'll be interested to see what the other members think of it. I read Moby Dick about 6 months ago and was excited about the premise of this story. I often enjoy historical fiction but this book I just read as possible to get it over with.
Charles Moore
Jun 21, 2014 Charles Moore rated it liked it
The Night Inspector is, I should say up front, Herman Melville after publication of The Whale which made him only mildly famous in 1867, in New York City, where the story is set. Busch has taken a fairly obscure part of Melville’s life (Busch is a professor of literature so no surprise there) and attached it to a gruesome, very taut story of life in the big city. Our narrator is a Civil War veteran who has been wounded and now is a “businessman” which is in high regard, apparently, but gets invo ...more
Suzanne Ross
Nov 20, 2009 Suzanne Ross rated it it was amazing
This is one of those extraordinary pieces of historical fiction that change the way you think about the period and about your own time. Set in NYC just after the Civil War with Herman Melville as a main character and the protagonist a maimed Civil War veteran who must deal with his past and his love of a prostitute -- she is like no prostitute you've ever read about! Beautifully written. Frederick Busch is an artist of incredible skill and insight.
Jonathan Briggs
Dec 08, 2014 Jonathan Briggs rated it really liked it

After the smoke clears, the bodies are buried and the blood has soaked deep into the cold ground, Civil War veteran William Bartholomew returns to New York sans visage.

An accomplished woodsman and eagle eye, Bartholomew served in the war as a marksman, sniper, assassin or thug, depending on the perspective. He was a great hunter of Rebel soldiers until he was brought down by a hideous, disfiguring wound, requiring him to wear a strap-on pasteboard, painted fac
Aug 06, 2011 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I forget how I heard about this book, but it intrigued me as it sounded very literary. You may think all books are "literature" but, I assure you, they are not. And I wouldn't want them to be. But this was the headiest book I've read in a long time, and I loved it. First, I loved the narrator, William Bartholomew, a marksman who was wounded in the face and now has to wear a papier mache mask to cover his injury. He's unlikable and at the same time likable. My favorite parts of the book are when ...more
Jan 12, 2016 Tom rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
Beautifully written historical novel. I was transported to post Civil War New York and wasn't quite sure I liked it there. There are some authors whose ability to craft language leaves me spellbound with admiration. Writing truly is an Art in the hands of someone like Mr. Busch. I found myself reading passages over and over again just to revel in their beauty. When you add to this craft the creation of a compelling narrative and wonderful characters, you are in book reading heaven.
Steve Burch
Jan 18, 2013 Steve Burch rated it really liked it
Remarkable job. Busch sets out to create a work of fiction about Herman Melville after the Civil War when he spent his last decades as a government inspector of the wharves of New York. He takes the known facts of Melville at this time, adds another historical character-the anonymous Union soldier who posed for Winslow Homer's classic wartime painting, "The Sniper" (giving the former sniper a backstory about his feelings being an assassin and having half of his face shot off in the war) - and co ...more
Lorin Cary
Jun 06, 2014 Lorin Cary rated it really liked it
William Bartholomew returns to New York City after the Civil War horribly disfigured. He wears a mask to cover his mangled face. A sniper during the war, he is now a businessman of means, and yet he lives in the 5 Points slum.

This is a literary novel. Busch weaves present and past seamlessly. His descriptions of Batholomew's actions as a sniper are powerfully descriptive. They capture the horrors of war, as the protagonist's internals provide moving glimpses of the man's psyche.

Among the other
One of the best writers you've never read - a prolific author and long time professor of literature at Colgate University Busch died several years ago, far too young. He is like James Salter, Francine Prose et al who write with incredible, beautiful precision.

The Night Inspector of the title is noneother than Herman Melville (who did work as a NI during his life following his failure at sea). The story revolves around a one time sniper in the Civil War who wounded during a mission and finds his
Jan 15, 2009 James rated it really liked it
One of the best novels I have read, Frederick Busch’s The Night Inspector, is smart and dark not unlike much of Busch's ouevre, and begins with a scene of a man being fit for a mask without a mouth. Is there a better metaphor for the ways in which writing fiction doesn’t always let us do the things we want to do? Melville -- both as a character in Busch's novel and in real life, on his own -- is, to me, one of the most philosophical fiction writers (and this is a good thing). For him everything ...more
Lauren Albert
Mar 09, 2010 Lauren Albert rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dan Savage
Nov 02, 2014 Dan Savage rated it really liked it
This is a very powerfully unique story which cleverly weaves themes from moby dick into the story of an obsessive civil war "hero." It is very dark and very honestly told.
Mar 23, 2014 Susan rated it it was amazing
Excellent book...a dark, fascinating exploration of the clash between an individual's morality and that of his society.
May 17, 2015 Mary rated it liked it
Uncomfortable reading, but interesting in the historical context.
Amy Stromberg
Jun 14, 2013 Amy Stromberg rated it really liked it
While I almost put this book down after reading 40 or so pages, I kept at it. Flashing from present to past, long paragraphs of thought and sentence structure started to confuse me and lose me but in the end, I enjoyed this story. The characters developed, and the story produced a plot. Billy and his mask were interesting. Funny as the voice he took on for me was of the same voice as the lead actor in Rectify. Strange! You learn a little about old NYC and time spent during the Civil War and shor ...more
Jun 12, 2009 Marguerite rated it did not like it
This had such a great premise (Civil War sniper with half a face goes to NYC after the war, befriends Herman Melville and seeks to liberate black children still enslaved by circumstance in the South) that I cut it a lot of slack. But, Frederick Busch lost my interest at page 170, and a derailment followed at page 197 (of 278), because it just didn't engage me. The sniper was interesting when talking about his warcraft, and his prostitute love, Jessie, was intriguing, too. In the end, there just ...more
Feb 21, 2016 Brian rated it did not like it
Made it halfway, then it got way too disgusting.
Jeff Vaughan
Jan 02, 2016 Jeff Vaughan rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
Dark, but great book
Oct 30, 2013 Amy rated it really liked it
I believe this book could've made it into my elite Five-Star rating, the characters were well written... obliging the reader by showing his blood and bones, guts and grime... in a poetic, grisly, beautiful manner. Unfortunately, I had to let the author of this possible Five-Star story down by being unable and unwilling to see what further horrors awaited these tragic characters... and I apologize to him for not having the stomach to give his rough, but gorgeously hewn story its due praise.
Nov 11, 2009 Beth rated it really liked it
A most interesting read which many might find confusing to follow. The author shifts back and forth between the narrator (and main character's) past and present without much warning. Yet, I found that less confusing but similar to thinking of one's past as it relates to the present. Add to that, the fact that William Bartholomew is a former Civil War sniper who befriends Herman Melville (post publication of Moby Dick), now a customs inspector in NYC and you get quite the tale.
Kevin Kosar
Feb 09, 2013 Kevin Kosar rated it really liked it
Frederick Busch’s The Night Inspector is a very good book. It is set in New York City just after the Civil War. Like the 2002 film Gangs of New York, this novel centers on the Five Points and the surrounding area. It paints a similarly ugly picture of the city---filthy, smelly, violent, and churning...(read more
Mark Wright
Jan 01, 2015 Mark Wright rated it liked it
The period language was a little tough to get through, but I enjoyed it.
Sherry (sethurner)
Oct 31, 2008 Sherry (sethurner) rated it really liked it
"No mouth," I told him.
"If I'm to craft a special order for you," he said.
"What is that, a special order?"
"Why, this." He held up the sketch. I looked away from it. "The mask, Mr. Bartholomew," he said. "I make arms. I make legs. I've never made a face, sir."

I enjoyed this story about a man who is maimed in many ways by war, and his journey to redemption.
May 22, 2009 Stacy rated it it was amazing
A story of a Civil War veteran who aims to make his fortune in a new America. Busch does a fine job of capturing the amoral just-getting-the-job-done value of America—something I never thought about stretching back as far as the Civil War, but I suppose it makes sense that it would. People were no doubt just as motivated by money back then as they are now. This is a must-read.
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Frederick Busch (1941–2006) was the recipient of many honors, including an American Academy of Arts and Letters Fiction Award, a National Jewish Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award. The prolific author of sixteen novels and six collections of short stories, Busch is renowned for his writing’s emotional nuance and minimal, plainspoken style. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he lived most of his li ...more
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