The Gods of Gotham, by Lyndsay Faye.
I hadn't been a copper star before. But I was then, I think, with Bird shivering so hard in my arms that she could scarcely breathe. And I am now. For if not for us, who would have ever found them? - from the ARE of The Gods of Gotham -
It is 1845 and New York City has formed its first police force. Timothy Wilde, a former bartender who has dreams of making a life with a woman he has known since childhood, finds himself scarred and destitute after a devastating fire. When Timothy's brother, Valentine, gets him a position on the new police force, Timothy at first resists. But then, one night while doing rounds, Timothy runs head on into a ten-year-old Irish girl named Bird who is covered in blood. Impulsively, he takes Bird home with him instead of to the House of Refuge, and when questioned, Bird reveals a shocking tale of a man in a dark hood who has been murdering children and burying them in a forest in the City. The case is complicated by political unrest, religious differences, and the influx of Irish immigrants into New York, not to mention the ambiguous feelings between Timothy and Valentine -- a man whose drug addiction, political aspirations, and ruthless view of life stir up more questions than answers.
The Gods of Gotham is a thrilling and compelling historical mystery which kept me glued to the pages. Lyndsay Faye sets the stage for her novel with spot-on descriptions of New York City in the mid-nineteenth century. Timothy Wilde makes the perfect narrator as a man struggling to survive after losing it all. He is a character with plenty of heart and a penchant for crime-solving. Timothy's relationship with his brother is a blend of resentment and begrudging love and provides a good deal of tension. The reader is kept guessing about Valentine who is a character with dark secrets and is, at times, difficult to like.
The Gods of Gotham has a twisty and surprising plot. Just when I thought I had it figured out, Faye took the novel in an entirely different direction. I don't want to say much else about the plot for fear of ruining it for others ... but suffice it to say that it was one of the strengths of the book.
Faye did a great deal of research for this book and weaves into the novel some true historical facts including a case of infanticide in New York's Five Points area, the civic unrest which led to the formation of New York City's first police force, a playhouse founded by a group of ragtag newsboys, and the birth of nonfiction urban sensationalism. She also includes the historical figure of George Washington Matsell who was known for his publication titled The Secret Language of Crime: Vocabulum, or, the Rogue's Lexicon (1859).
It should be mentioned that the novel incorporates "flash" dialogue -- a type of slang used in working class neighborhoods of New York City which gave birth to a permanent shift in the English language. Faye includes a helpful dictionary of terms for reference, but I found it was unnecessary as the language is seated artfully in context and was easy to interpret.
I loved this book for its historical setting and characters, and for its unpredictable plot. Readers who enjoy historical fiction as well as mysteries will not want to miss The Gods of Gotham.
- Quality of Writing: Four and a half stars
- Characters: Four and a half stars
- Plot: Five stars
FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher as a participant in BOOK CLUB (an on line book club group).
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".
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