Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Gods Of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

The year is 1845, and New York City has finally decided to follow the lead of other capitol cities such as London and Paris and establish a standing police force.  In New York, the men on this first police force are known as copper stars for the insignia they wear.

Since there is no trained cadre on which to draw, men end up as copper stars by patronage or by being burly and ready to fight.  Timothy Wilde fits in this category.  He has been a bartender, steadily saving his money so that he will be able to ask Mercy Underhill, a local preacher's daughter, to marry him.  When a fire takes him money and leaves him scarred, he puts aside his dreams and follows his brother, Valentine, into the force.

New York is exploding in size.  The Irish are immigrating in huge numbers due to the potato famine, and the city is unprepared to handle the flood of new bodies.  The clergy attempt to minister to them, but there is much prejudice as Irish men desperate to support their families take up jobs for lower wages.  The Democratic Party takes care of the immigrants in exchange for their votes, and has a stake in their success.

As Timothy patrols his beat one night, he is startled to have a young child barrel into him.  On closer inspection, he is even more startled as she is covered in blood.  Scared witless, she cannot speak and he takes her to his lodging and with his landlady finds out that she has witnessed the murder of one of her friends.  She, like many other poor children, works in a bawdy house, forced into the sex trade at a tender age.  As Timothy investigates Bird's story, he discovers a grisly truth.  There are many more child 'stargazers' who have died, and he uncovers a graveyard where scores are buried.  As he starts to bring this scandal to light, the murderer starts to send letters to those on the police force and to the papers, claiming credit for the murders and signing off as 'The God Of Gotham'. Many immediately blame Irish immigrants, as most of the children are Irish.   Can Timothy and the police find out who is responsible before the city explodes?

Readers of historical fiction should rush out to get this book.  Faye has meticulously researched the era and history, using real characters such as the man credited with creating the first police force and real murder cases.  Timothy is a compelling hero who the reader will cheer on as he attempts to solve a series of murders with no experience in such work.  The book ends satisfactorily with enough of a twist at the end to make readers ready for Faye's next novel.  This book is recommended for mystery readers as well as those interested in the early history of New York.

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