It is not easy to write a good thriller and a crime novel. All the elements need to be in place – the setting, the place, the characters and the crime but of course. Everything to the finest detail – after all nothing can go amiss in such type of a genre. This is what Lyndsay Faye has effortlessly achieved in her book, “The Gods of Gotham”.
The book is set in mid-nineteenth-century New York. The city is in shambles. We are talking about 1845 New York. The Great Potato Famine had struck Ireland and thousands of Irish Catholics were surfacing in New York, adding religious turmoil to the already volatile city. There is political upheaval and radicalism. Everything seems to be changing in the city and the story is wrapped around the founding of New York City’s first police department (The Copper Stars) and the recruit and protagonist in question – Timothy Wilde.
Wilde is a luckless man. At 27, he is unlucky in love, works at a small Manhattan oyster bar, till the Great Fire (another important angle to the story) destroys his workplace, leaving him penniless and without a job. His politically connected brother gets him a job in the newly constituted police force and that’s where Timothy’s story starts off. He hopes for a career, till he stumbles on a blood-drenched child and only discovers that there is more to what meets the eye and sets out to solve the crime. With this he faces a lot of problems – both political and personal and of course solves the crimes of children being exploited by the end of the book.
The Gods of Gotham is a taut and nicely written book. To set a novel in the past is quite challenging, what is more so is to synchronize the story with the characters’ mindset and how they would behave in that culture.
The book is layered with several sub-plots: Timothy’s relationship with his brother Valentine, his devotion to his sweetheart Mercy Underhill, and more so his relationship with New York City, which Faye has done a fantastic job of describing. There were times while reading this book that I had to look up Google Images to see what New York would have looked like in those times and the descriptions could not be truer.
The mystery in the book keeps the reader going and thinking. Wilde is a likeable narrator and a competent detective for sure. Faye has managed to make him come into his own without overshadowing the other characters in the book – from the whorehouse madam to Mercy’s father to other policemen and the engaging child Bird. New York as a major part (or character) of the book, is always standing tall in the background adding the much-needed life and period-specific texture to the book.
The Gods of Gotham will keep you to the edge of your seat. It is feisty and also thrilling, describing life in 1845 at its grittiest best and paced excellently. There is a sequel in the offing and I cannot wait for it.
Here is a quick book trailer: