The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

Timothy Wilde begins 1845 with a lucrative position as a bartender in a booming restaurant located near the New York Stock Exchange. He nurses twin passions in his love for his beautiful childhood friend Mercy (whom he hopes to marry), and an abiding hatred of his older brother Valentine (for reasons that are initially unclear).Wilde’s dreams go up in flames when a fire destroys his job, home, and face. Disfigured and in need of work, he takes a position as police officer in the newly minted New York Police Department. Settling into his new line of work isn’t easy- the job was finessed by his brother-  and he almost gives it up, but then he runs into a young girl covered in blood. Tim finds he can’t walk away until he uncovers her secrets and the city’s.

In The Gods of Gotham, Lyndsay Faye does an incredible job of immersing the reader into 1845 New York. She deftly portrays the passionate and determined people, the battles for survival and dominance among the immigrant population, and the religious unrest between Catholics and Protestants- at an all-time high with the large increase of the Irish population surrounding The Great Famine. It is all threatening to erupt into an uncontrollable mess. These days, no matter what we think about police officers, they are an established and essential part of our society. Not so at the time. It was fascinating to see the development of the police force, and the way it was initially viewed as an encroachment on freedom – akin to having a standing army in New York. Though police forces had been established in Europe and other American cities, New York, as filthy and violent as it was, was a hold out. Faye’s account of the force’s early days and her inclusion of the lexicon of the city’s poor and/or criminal element was eye-opening. The characters in charge of running the city, and the methods they employed, were just as colorful as those of the criminal element they sought to control.

The language in The Gods of Gotham takes some getting used to as a lot of the characters speak “flash”. Some maneuvering back and forth with the lexicon and explanation by other characters is required, but Faye manages to use it in a balanced way that only adds to the richness of the story. Her characterizations of Timothy, Valentine, Bird and Mercy are fully realized and each of their stories, backgrounds and choices are like paint coloring in the details of hardscrabble lives, religious and moral strife, and the exacting requirements of big city living. She truly recreates the feel of mid-nineteenth century New York, and the novel is just as much astute historical perspective and analysis as it is a solid and entertaining murder mystery. Highly Recommended.

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