Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Gods of Gotham

Normally when I am reading a new mystery book and I feel the tentacles of a potential series creeping into my read I get resentful. It’s childish but it makes me feel used somehow. You write the book, I’ll read the book and then we’ll all decide if this should be a series, ok? Ok. What can I say? I want to be the boss of everything. Oh well. It looks as though in a year or so The Gods of Gotham will be looked back on as book one in the Timothy Wilde mysteries.

Once you make it past the late 1940’s-esque cover art---really. Can’t you see that image selling The Gods of Gotham movie starring Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Mitchum, Jennifer Jones, and Van Heflin. The Gods of Gotham…a world torn apart by burning passions! Anyway. As I was implying the cover art is aged at best but the contents? Much better than the cover would have you believe.

My guess is that The Gods of Gotham will most often be compared to The Alienist. Both books are cut from the same cloth in that they are historical mysteries set in New York City and the crimes are gruesome. After that? The big difference is that The Gods of Gotham is not bogged down by the inclusion of historical figures in key roles in its storyline. Real people do make some cameo appearances but really they are passersby.
Set in 1845, Lyndsay Faye’s new novel is certified USDA Grade A historical mystery. It’s well plotted and well written. The story is wrapped around the founding of New York City’s first police department and your recruit Timothy Wilde. Wilde is a luckless fellow. At 27 he is unlucky in love, out of a job, out of money, scarred by the fire that burnt down his home and destroyed his looks and now has to accept a job with the police arranged for him by his shady brother. He is also Irish at a time when the immigrants of longer standing in NYC are spoiling for a fight against the latest influx of immigrants, the Irish Catholics. When Wilde stumbles upon an unsavory exploitation of children he also finds that he has a talent for investigation.

Wilde is a very enjoyable, alluringly damaged creation but it’s his brother Valentine that gets all the flash. He is a charming, self-absorbed, villainous drug addict who tries to keep his nicer instincts at bay. Mercy Underhill is Wilde’s unattainable love interest. She is a clergyman’s daughter who works for the benefit of the poor. These three will be the recurring characters as this novel develops into a series and Faye has done a terrific job with them.  

There is a fourth main character in The Gods of Gotham. New York City. The entire apple. Lyndsay Faye has taken a cross section of 1845 NYC, squeezed every bit of research out of and rebuilt it for us to marvel at. The squalor, the language, the politics, the architecture and the people are laid out like an all you can eat buffet of delights so come prepared!

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