9.22.2012

The Gods of Gotham, by Lindsay Faye

The Gods of Gotham
Lindsay Faye's The Gods of Gotham was a fascinating read of 1845 New York. Though the ending has some problems, the amount of detail and the stunning characters made this a very, very good read. Not only that, but reading this book was like experiencing a bit of time travel. While New York today is still an intimidating and, occasionally, frightening place, New York of 1845 was deadly. In 1845, the city police were just getting started, firefighter companies did battle in the streets, gangs controlled entire neighborhoods, nativist agitators, and various political machines taught new immigrants how to commit voter fraud. As I read Faye's skillful exposition, it was like I could almost smell New York (not pleasant).

We meet our protagonist, Timothy Wilde, just before a devastating fire robs him of his savings and causing him to despair of winning to love of his long time crush. His brother, a rake and political fixer for the Democrats, gets him a job on the newly formed police force*. Wilde reluctantly takes the job, but soon finds that his observational skills make the job a perfect fit for him. A couple of months after starting his beat in Five Points, a blood-covered girl runs into him (literally) in the street after escaping from a brothel. Be warned, there are some pretty shocking vices in this book. Wilde can't help but investigate and uncovers a grisly set of mutilated corpse of children. As it's the first big challenge to the abilities of the police force, the case attracts attention from all the players in the city.

Faye throws plenty of twists and complications at her protagonist, the the point where I couldn't work out who did it. I won't say the solution was a disappointment, because it was highly complicated an original. However, the way it plays out on paper did make me think that the solution was a cop out until Faye kept going to reveal the rest of what happened. The pacing didn't really work for me.But that was the only problem with the book. The rest of it is just fantastic--provided that you have a strong stomach.

* Interestingly, the big argument against having a police force came from people who considered it like having a standing army in New York. I have to wonder how many of these were criminals. Considering conditions in New York at the time, I should think that most people would welcome some peacekeeping.

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