The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye
Published by Berkley Trade ISBN 9780425261255
Trade paperback, $16, 480 pages
If you were a fan of TV's NYPD Blue, and you like historical fiction then Lyndsay Faye's novel The Gods of Gotham is for you. Set in 1945, it tells the story of the origins of the NYPD through the story of Timothy Wilde. (If Andy Sipowicz were around in 1845, he'd fit right in.)
Tim is genial bartender who knows everyone in the neighborhood. He is seriously injured in a fire, and after recuperating, his brother Val gets him a job in the newly formed New York Police Department, called "the copper stars" after the copper badges they carry. Hence, the slang "copper" for police.
Tim is none too pleased with his job. Cops are looked upon with suspicion by the general public, and he is assigned to the worse section of the city, the slums in Five Points. Not to mention that he is in great pain from his burns.
One night he runs into a small girl covered in blood. She is too traumatized to tell him what happened, so he takes her to his apartment where his landlady helps to care for the girl. She tells Tim that there are several bodies of young children buried in the woods; a serial killer is on the loose.
Gods of Gotham drops the reader right smack into the middle of 1845 New York City, with interesting characters trying to solve a crackling good murder mystery. We meet a doctor who uses early forensic methods to determine how and who killed these children, a priest whose church is the site of a horrible murder and a young female charity worker named Mercy who is a romantic interest for Tim.
The writing evokes sensory reactions in the reader. We can smell the rot of the slums and feel the shame of the daily taunts and slights that the Irish immigrants are subjected to as they try to assimilate and make lives for themselves and their families.
The Irish became 'coppers' because it was not thought to be a respectable job, and therefore no decent man would want to do it. Through the NYPD, the Irish gained a foothold politically, and the corruption that follows is a theme in this fascinating novel.
I liked the character development; Tim and his brother Val's relationship is particularly well done. The plot is well-paced and although I do not like blood and gore, what is here is essential to the story and not overdone. One particularly memorable scene involves a mother and her baby that is so very sad, it made my heart ache.
The attention to historical detail is impeccable. I could study the map of 1845 New York City on the inside cover for hours, and the quotes at the beginning of each chapter are interesting as well.
Fans of historical literary murder mysteries, like Caleb Carr's The Alienist, will love Gods of Gotham. I'm not the only one who feels this way; Faye was nominated for a 2012 Edgar Award for this enthralling mystery. And I was not surprised to find that this book was originally published by Amy Einhorn; she always finds the good ones.
rating 4 of 5