THE TRIAL OF BAT SHEA, a novel by Jack Casey, tells of the struggles of the Irish in gritty, industrial Troy, N.Y. (130,000 words, 55 illustrations). The year is 1894. Boss Edward Murphy, United States Senator and New York State Democratic Chairman, runs this upstate mill city from a brewery. Thugs and repeat voters emerge from ward saloons each election day to stuff ballot boxes and keep Murphy s Irish Catholic Democrats in office. When a posse of Protestant vigilantes turns out to stop the voting fraud, a young industrialist is gunned down. The murder of Robert Ross sparks an explosive backlash. Pious congregations cry for vengeance from the Protestant pulpits. Suffragettes demand the woman s vote to reform and civilize elections. A secret fraternity dresses in black robes and hoods and fastens on to the murder to topple Murphy and seize power. Stepping from the shadows, shrewd Yankee lawyer Frank Black accuses Bartholomew Shea of the crime, and then guides community outrage into the channels of criminal law. But did Shea pull the fatal trigger? From elegant mansions to immigrant slums, this drama of ambition and betrayal, of bigotry and oppression plays against the backdrop of industrial America while the Victorian age darkens. THE TRIAL OF BAT SHEA recounts how a saloon thug steals an election, and how a political opportunist then leads a flag-waving mob and twists the law to extract the last full measure of revenge, a life for a life, in the name of truth and justice.
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This novel portrays events in Troy, New York, a Victorian city where Marxist unrest pressed the lower orders up against the crust of a nascent and unfeeling crust of American aristocracy. It is a true story, true because these things happened, and true, in a deeper sense, because tragedy often is the fruit of bigotry, injustice and ambition.
My first goal was accuracy. I exhausted all primary sources--newspapers, city directories, the red book, biographies, the letters and public papers of Frank Black, writings about Robert Ross, accounts of the American Protective Association, the reported decisions in People v. Shea and the 2,500 page trial transcript. I have conveyed the facts as accurately and succinctly as I was able.
My second goal was to reveal the tragic dimension of this American revenge saga. It has been the work of a decade and more to gain the necessary legal and political insights and to observe my fellow mortals so I could charge these facts with emotional energy and strike at deeper themes. While excerpts of an earlier version of this novel appeared in the Troy Sunday Record in 1977, the story was substantially rewritten for its centennial appearance, and has been further polished for this digital version.
Few liberties were taken with fact, but necessary extrapolations from fact were made to breathe life into the characters. Thus, even though the characters are based upon historical figures and bear historical names, they are creations, compilations, inventions. The characters are all fictitious as to what they thought, what they said, what they hoped, what they feared and above all why they acted so. This leap from fact to fiction, from life to art, is essential whenever themes behind the veil of history are explored.
I have tried in this work to hold a simple mirror up to nature. Doubtless it is cracked and warped in places. Yet I have tried in my way to reflect as it was in this brief time, 1894-96, and this obscure place, Victorian Troy, New York, so that a more universal truth might be glimpsed. If the reader has caught a glimpse of himself or herself in this looking glass as well, then I have accomplished all I set out to do.
Troy, New York
September 21, 2010
THE TRIAL OF BAT SHEA peers into a dark corner of the Gilded Age as America falters amid the swarming Marxist nightmare of the industrial age -- rampant immigration, religious intolerance, a growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots, strikes, lockouts and child labor. Society teeters on the brink of collapse with factories failing, unions rioting, ambitious "reformers" lusting after power. Catholics fight Protestants, suffragettes and temperance leagues demand the woman's vote and the padlocking of saloons, reformers decry bossism and above all the many clashing forces, the electric chair looms as the state's power to flex its political muscle. Here the arcs of two lives cross: Bat Shea, a lowly saloon thug, rises and redeems himself in society's eyes when he meets his death head on and forgives his persecutors; corrupted by ambition, opportunist Frank Black works the system to secure Shea's execution, ignoring abundant evidence to the contrary and the very truth, and is sworn in as governor of New York State the year Shea dies.
Author Jack Casey saw this story as a tableau depicting the Irish ethnic struggle against repression during the Industrial Revolution. He wrote and published eighteen excerpts for The Sunday Record in 1977. Although Casey was publishing novels with Bantam Books in the '80s, he never placed this story in New York. As the centennial of the murder approached in 1994, he prepared the novel for its hardcover appearance, and has since sold out the first and second editions. With this digital appearance, the novel now enters its third edition.
In 2005, Mr. Casey wrote the story into a screenplay, and in 2006 conducted a staged reading at a local saloon, Revolution Hall, on River Street in Troy, about a mile from Shea's neighborhood and parish. Four hundred people came to the hall, despite there being fewer than 300 seats, and this interest resulted in another staged reading, as a benefit for the Rensselaer County Historical Society, this time with a dozen original songs. The 2008 performances sold out. Scheduled for a full production in November, 2010 at the New York State Theater Institute, budget cuts forced NYSTI to postpone the production.
With each new adaptation of THE TRIAL OF BAT SHEA, Mr. Casey has deepened the characters, narrowed the themes, tightened the drama and compressed the action to provide the reader/viewer with a more poignant sense of its tragedy, and the limits and failure of the American political and judicial systems. While the novel appears here in digital form, both the screenplay and the stage play are seeking producers to bring the story to a wider audience.
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Book Description Diamond Rock Publishing Company, 2012. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 061554195X