T.J. English, author of such non-fiction bestsellers as Paddy-Whacked, Havana Nocturne, and the modern crime classic The Westies, has a new book that takes a deep look at a controversial murder case and its impacts on race relations in New York City during the 60s and early 70s. The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge weaves a taught and gripping narrative through the stories of George Whitmore, a black youth falsely accused of the horrific Career Girl murders; Bill Phillips, a corrupt cop who eventually testifies about the rampant corruption in the NYPD; and, Dhoruba bin Wahad, a controversial Black Panther member. English’s in-depth research and clear writing really bring the gritty feel of that era in New York City to life, and the changing social undercurrents that pervade the story.
I interviewed T.J. English about The Savage City, his working processes, and feedback on the book.
How did the idea come about?
A fellow writer turned me on to the story of the murders of Emily Hoffert and Janice Wylie in August of 1963. Amazingly, I was not aware of the case. And it was a big deal, especially back in the day, but it has become a forgotten chapter of New York City crime history.
So I began to explore the case, which was an incredible story. I originally intended to do a book just on that case. Along the way I started asking what else going on in city in terms of racial conditions at the time, and as the case progressed. And the answer to that was that all hell broke loose in terms of racial strife. So the book expanded outside the scope of just the case to incorporate all the social changes that were happening at the same time.
Was there any hesitation in speaking with you, on the part of people involved in the events in your book?