Book Reviews

Lyndsay Faye
G. P. Putnam's Sons
-
Buy The Gods of Gotham on Amazon.

“He asked me if I thought that God could forgive any act, no matter how vile. You know why, naturally. And of course I said yes.”

My eyes fell shut as I blessed the world entire for that one tiny grace. “And then,” Thomas Underhill continued, “he asked if human beings were capable of the same.” 

“What did you tell him?” I whispered.

“I said to keep trying and find out.”

from  The Gods of Gotham

It is 1845, and New York City has just formed its first police force. Timothy Wilde is one of these “copper stars,” a job he has received through his older brother’s political connections.  One night as he’s ending his beat, a ten-year-old girl runs in to him as she is dashing through the dark streets. She is dressed only in her nightgown, and the gown is covered in blood.

So begins Lyndsay Faye’s 2012 novel, Gods of Gotham, recently named best mystery novel by the American Library Association, and nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America (winners will be announced May 2.)

Lyndsay Faye is the pseudonym for Lyndsay Farber Lehner, who with her husband, Gabriel Lehner, graduated from R. A. Long in 1998, and now lives in Manhattan.

The New York City that she depicts is a grimy, seamy, violent world that operates through well-oiled corruption (Some things never change.) Wilde is an uninspired cop, just walking his beat “until someone wanted arresting,” but he soon becomes drawn into the girl’s life. The blood on her nightgown is not her own, but of a boy who is (was) her friend. Both of them work at Silkie Marsh’s brothel—and we don’t mean scrubbing the floors.

Wilde enters this sordid world, and it only gets more and more sordid. The girl, Bird Daly, tells him of a dark-masked gentleman who visits the house, and when he does, one of the children disappears. Eventually, Wilde will discover the remains of nineteen of these children buried on the outskirts of the city.

As he begins his investigation to find the brutal child-killer, Wilde runs up against party politics (no surprise, Silkie Marsh is a major contributor), as well as the Nativist rage against the swelling numbers of Irish immigrants arriving each day, “plentiful as fleas.”

Like most of the characters, Wilde is himself wounded and brutalized in this rough and tumble world where there is little difference between the “coppers” and the thugs they are supposed to control. Yet he engages us because of his self-awareness, which seems often lacking in many of the other people (“I’ve done mad things myself. Stupid things. Never quite that mad or quite that stupid, but after all it wasn’t for lack of trying.”)

Almost against our will, we, like Wilde, are drawn down the gritty, squalid alleys of life we would rather not think about.

[Watch the Book Chat interview with Lyndsay Faye, discussing her first novel, Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings, with her former teacher and mentor Jim LeMonds at www.alan-rose.com/bookchat.]


This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (March 15 - April 14, 2013.) Reprinted with permission.

Click her to buy The Gods of Gotham  on Amazon.