Book Banter: The Gods of Gotham

gothamTitle: The Gods of Gotham

Author: Lyndsay Faye

Genre: historical mystery

Length: 414 pages

Plot Basics: In 1845, New York City is teeming with newly arrived Irish immigrants, Party brawls and religious tensions. After a devastating fire in Manhattan claims Timothy Wilde’s savings (and possibly, his dreams), he gets a job as a new “copper star” in the New York City Police, thanks to his politically connected brother, Valentine. After his rounds one night, Timothy finds a ten year old girl, covered in blood claiming that she knows of secret graves north of the city holding dead children. Tim can’t let the story go and starts into an investigation through a dizzying sweep of anti-Irish sentiment, party politics, bribes and corruption.

Banter Points: Gods of Gotham will be a 2014 award winner for me, probably garnering either “best first book in a series” or “best discovered author” AND appearing in my annual Top Ten. It’s that good.

Faye  crafted a great mystery with a perfect series of red herrings for Tim (and me) to follow. Tim is a Sherlockian character, his bartending past giving him an edge on noticing things that others gloss right now. The book is a first person narrative, so the wonderful observations Faye applies to  New York City and its people and problems are all told through Tim’s voice.

We’re damaged right down to the last man, I’ve discovered, we 1845 star policemen. Perforated. There’s something the city hasn’t given us yet, or has taken away, a lacking shaped a little differently every time. We’re all missing bits and pieces. For each of us, there’s a gap no one can quite ignore.

I don’t live in 1845 New York City with the religious intolerance and xenophobia of the time, but as a reader in 2014, I understand exactly what Tim means.

Tim’s perspective rightly makes the city a character, a malevolent behemoth that lurks throughout the narrative.

You get used to being under thousands of eyes in New York or you leave it altogether. But when you’re at the outer reaches of the city, with the sky sprawled lazy and clear above you, and the birds talking nonsense at each other, and the grasses whispering secrets underfoot… the feeling doesn’t leave you. It’s embedded in your skin by then. Something’s always watching here, just as the shining grey stones and black ash trees watched us that afternoon. And it isn’t always easy to assume that the presence is kindly

Because it isn’t. It can be pretty merciless, actually.

The plot too is merciless. Faye doesn’t whitewash the poverty of the era. Child prostitution is a stark and ugly reality throughout the book but Faye forces the reader to understand how limited the options were for many for survival. The crimes are violent, bloody and horrific.

And yet. The novel is a deeply personal story of discovery. Tim is finding his place. He has to come to terms with his brother’s politics and proclivities. He pines for a neighborhood girl to the point of obsession. It’s not a traditional coming-of-age novel, but

I read the book slowly, for me. First it was a translation thing as Faye spattered the book liberally with “flash” the dialect of the times used by thieves and lower class people. It was very readable, but clues lurked in those phrases. Then, I read slowly because I didn’t want to miss a word.

Bummer Points: So far, Faye only has one sequel to this book. I’m hoping for many more than that.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you like Sherlock Holmes, read it. If you like historicals, you should read it. If you like mysteries, you should read it. Basically, you should just read it.

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