The Gods of Gotham
by Lyndsay Faye
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam; March 15, 2012
Advance Review Copy (Paperback)
From the inside flap:
It is 1845…Timothy Wilde tends bar near the Exchange, fantasizing about the day he will have enough money to win the girl of his dreams. But when his dreams incinerate in a fire that devastates downtown Manhattan, he finds himself disfigured, unemployed, and homeless. His older brother gets him a job in the newly minted NYPD, but Timothy is highly skeptical of this new “police force.” And he is less than thrilled that his new beat is the notoriously down-and-out Sixth Ward of the city–at the edge of Five Points, the world’s most notorious slum.
One night while making his rounds, Timothy runs into, literally, a little slip of a girl–a girl not more than ten years old, dashing through the dark in her nightshift…covered head to toe in blood.
Timothy knows he should take the girl to the House of Refuge, yet he can’t bring himself to abandon her. Instead he takes her to his house, where she spins wild stories, claiming that dozens of bodies are buried in the forest north of Twenty-third Street. Timothy isn’t sure whether to believe her nor not, but as the truth unfolds, the reluctant copper star finds himself engaged in a battle for justice that nearly costs him his brother, his romantic obsession, and his own life.
Set against the backdrop of New York City in 1845–at a time when the Great Potato Famine in Ireland was bringing thousands of new immigrants into the city–The Gods of Gotham is an historical thriller that weaves together an engaging murder mystery with the real religious, political, and racial tensions of the time.
Lyndsay Faye does an amazing job of bringing to life the New York City of 1845 with detailed descriptions of the city’s topography, and by incorporating “flash talk”–a slang form of the English language used by the working class neighborhoods of the city. While Faye includes a dictionary at the beginning of the book that translates some of the flash words most often used in the story, she also does a great job of smoothly defining the flash talk within the dialogue of the book without compromising the flow of the dialogue or the story.
I already knew a bit about the potato famine and the resulting influx of immigrants to this country–and how that led to some very serious religious tension between the already-established Protestant citizens and the new Catholic immigrants–so what I found most interesting to read about was the establishment of the New York Police Department and its ties to the Democratic Party in NYC at the time. While the mystery in The Gods of Gotham was a good one that included a couple of interesting twists in it to keep readers guessing, what really sucked me into this book were the historical aspects. Faye’s talent as a writer shows in just how much history she was able to include in The Gods of Gotham without it feeling forced or overbearing–all of the historical pieces of the book blended well with the plot and vice versa.
As with any book, I liked some characters more than others, but all of the characters in The Gods of Gotham were well-written–their characteristics, actions, and speech felt very natural within the historical context of the story. I became quite attached to Bird (the homeless girl whom Tim takes in at the beginning of the story), and Mrs. Boehm, Tim’s new landlady. I also became quite engrossed in the relationship between Tim and his brother, Valentine. There is a sequel to this book in the works, and there are things about each of these characters and their personal stories that I hope will be expanded upon within its pages.
Lyndsay Faye is a talented writer and The Gods of Gotham is a very good book. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading literary fiction–historical or otherwise–and/or to anyone who enjoys reading a good mystery.
(To learn more about Lyndsay Faye, please visit her official website.)
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