Monday, April 30, 2012

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye — 432 pgs

New York City, 1845. As the city gears up to institute its first police force, it also becomes inundated with Irish immigrants who have fled the disastrous potato famine that swept across Ireland, creating a volatile situation citywide. Timothy Wilde is a barkeep who is working hard to gain the attentions of Mercy, the woman he loves. As he saves and saves, hoping to one day earn enough to provide for Mercy, the unexpected happens. A fire breaks out in the city and not only destroys Tim’s savings and lodgings but leaves him disfigured as well. When Tim finally gets his bearings back, he’s asked to become a part of the fledgling police force—a job that doesn’t interest him at all. But Tim’s prospects are grim, so he accepts the challenge and decides to become a “copper star”. One evening as he’s patrolling his area, a frightened child, covered in blood, runs into his arms and he is unable to make any sense of what has happened to her. Going against his better instincts, Tim takes the girl home to his boarding house and tries unendingly to parse out her true story from the lies she so effortlessly tells. When he finally begins to tease out the real story, it’s a tale of bribery, mayhem and murder of the most heinous and repugnant kind, and it will ultimately involve some of the town’s most respected leaders and financial contributors. Will Tim go forward and risk everything to solve these hidden crimes, or will he move silently away and continue striving towards his dreams of Mercy and a life of ease? In this arresting work of historical fiction, Lyndsay Faye gives her readers a vibrant and visceral portrait of 19th century New York imbued with a cast of characters that are as unforgettable as they are complex.

I initially became interested in this book when Jen from Devourer of Books hosted it as one of her monthly BOOK CLUB selections. I was lucky enough to get picked to participate in the discussion, which can be found here. I wasn’t sure if this book was going to be a success with me because I was unsure of the ratio of mystery thriller to historical fiction that the book would provide. When I started reading, all my cares melted away and I was immediately grabbed by the book’s potent and portentous narrative. It ended up being one of my favorite historical reads of the year so far, which I totally wasn’t expecting. I have to commend Faye for creating a story that was unexpectedly ensnaring and grittily beguiling.

Tim is a genuinely nice guy with a knack for eliciting confidences and a habit of noticing the imperceptible habits and traits of the customers he serves at the bar. Though he’s tough, he has a soft spot for one woman whom he desires above all others. He is the polar opposite of his brother Valentine, a man who is neck deep in politics and all kinds of nefarious and shady business all over town. In fact, Val thoroughly disgusts Tim, and through a very tumultuous set of events, the two become somewhat intertwined through the institution of the newly formed police force. Tim is not happy to be a copper star but he feels it’s the only solution left to him, and though he does his work with pride, he’s harboring a lot of resentment towards Val for unknown but powerful reasons.

When the bloody child steps out of the night and into Tim’s arms, all manner of hell begins to reign down. Not only are there problems within the city due to the flood of immigrants, the Democratic Party is trying to keep its toehold in the city, and that means money and influence are needed. Add to this roiling pot of confusion the fact that the city’s population isn’t interested in being hemmed in by lawmen. They’ve been happily causing a ruckus for as long as anyone can remember and the copper stars are not well regarded. When the little girl finally begins to tell her haunting story, it’s almost too horrible to be believed. But is it the truth or just another fabrication devised to win sympathy from the man who plucked her out of oblivion and given her a new start? Each of these plot lines was deliciously melded into a wild and unstoppable narrative that still managed to be composed and earnest.

Towards the conclusion of the book, everything begins to rapidly spin out of control for Tim and everyone else in the town. Explosive turns of events take place that make the reader question each and every character’s motives and loyalties, and each revelation is more shocking than the last. It was a heady mix of action and contemplation and I grew more and more enveloped in what was happening, until the final climactic ending that had me applauding Faye’s brave character motives and narrative choices. This was a book that I wanted to go on forever and I would have been happy to read another 400 pages with Tim as my guide through this New York of the past. I happily discovered that there is a sequel in the works and I’m going to be lining up to grab that book as soon as I hear of its release.

I can’t recommend this book heartily enough, and those readers who are put off by historical fiction would find a bevy of entertaining aspects to this book—the major one being that this is a mystery/thriller as well as a work of historical fiction. There’s not much more to say about this book other than my noting of the fact that this is probably one of the best works of historical mystery that I have ever read. Bravo, Ms. Faye. You have created a world that I would be very reluctant to inhabit but that I couldn’t stop from falling headlong into anyway. Highly recommended for all types of readers.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

27 comments:

Melissa said...

The Gods of Gotham sounds like a really good read. Secrets, murder and mystery, all the things I love in a novel.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I am really anxious to read this book, especially after you characterize it as one of the best works of historical mystery you have ever read. Who could resist such a review?!!!

Darlene said...

I've often wondered if I'd like this book but after reading your thoughts on it I think I may give it a try one of these days.

Amy said...

I so want to read this book and am still kicking myself for missing Jen at Devourer Books Book Club sign up to discuss it...even more so now that I know you were part of the discussion.

I have had a few doubts about whether or not this is a book for me but planned to find out by reading it. Your wonderful review has chased any lingering doubts away. I love that this book is set in NYC, is about the establishment of the PD and includes an influx of Irish immigrants after the disastrous potato famine.

You've really piqued my interets in Tim, too. He sounds like a fascinating character...not one I expected to get 'mushy' over a child but I love that he rescues the little girl.

Your reviews often bring out my chatty side! I wish I lived much closer to you so we could really discuss books!

This is a fantastic review, Heather and I'm so glad you enjoyed this book so much. I hope I do, too!

Harvee said...

Mystery plus historical fiction - a good combination. I've seen this book around but this is the first time I've read a comprehensive review. Good job, you have me sold!

Mary (Bookfan) said...

This sounds really good! I'll put it on my list of books to look for. Great review, Heather!

Jenny said...

I rarely read historical fiction even though I almost always enjoy it. I think the combo of that with the mystery/thriller with the New York setting might make it something I'd really like!

Ti said...

I've glanced at this book before but your review makes me want to read it. I don't read too much historical fiction but I usually enjoy it when I do.

Sandy Nawrot said...

That's it, I am going to have to read this.

Suko said...

Excellent review! This sounds like historical fiction/mystery at its best.

Audra said...

Eee, so happy for your review as I've got this one and I'm dying to read it -- but I'm especially eager given your comments. It sounds amazing!

nomadreader said...

I need to get to this one too. I have an ARC but haven't actually picked it up yet. You've convinced me it should be a priority!

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I've seen this book around but I wasn't really interested. Your review changed my mind, I really want to read this one now! Great review.

Helen said...

I enjoyed this book too. Tim and Val were great characters and I loved the 19th century New York setting. I'm looking forward to the sequel!

bermudaonion said...

This book keeps getting raves. As you know, I don't read a lot of historical fiction but I think the blend of mystery with historical fiction makes this one I'd enjoy.

Jenners said...

OOOhh…this sounds like historical fiction that I would enjoy. I like exciting stories set in the past but not the Tudor past! : )

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

you have said two of my most favorite phrases ~ historical fiction and mystery/thriller! And to hear it is your top one for this year means I have got to get it! That time period is so full of intrigue anyways. I am off to see if I can order it right now - thanks for the awesome review.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I LOVE historical fiction! I'm listening to this one right now on audio and am hooked. I've only just reached the part where he's run into the bloodied child and he and the widow haven brought her inside. I can't wait to see what's next! I jumped down to your recommendation paragraph since I'm in the midst of this one...will return for the complete review when I'm done :)

Nymeth said...

I'm definitely not put off by historical fiction, and this sounds right up my alley! It's funny; I've read so many books set in this time period in Europe, and yet so few that focus on the US. That makes this even more appealing to me.

Vasilly said...

I don't usually read historical fiction but this sounds amazing! I haven't read many books from this period of time. Great review.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

WOW --- high praise. I was hoping to get an eGalley but wasn't lucky enough. Sounds worth buying though. You sold me.

Brooke said...

I was pretty much hooked from = "New York City, 1845"! Historical mystery novels make such entertaining reads!

Jenny said...

Ohhhhh such a good review, Heather! Nothing else I've read about this book has tempted me in the least -- I do not care for 1800s America as a setting for historical fiction -- but damn you are making it sound amazing.

Aarti said...

Oh, great review! How fun you got to read it as part of a virtual book club, too :-) This sounds like one I would really enjoy- thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Marie said...

wow! what an endorsement! I'll keep an eye out! :-)

Beth F said...

You know I loved this one! Awesome review.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Ahh, I've had my eye on this book for a while and know that I need to quit being lazy and hurry up and get it! I love everything about the idea and storyline, so looks like I need to quit typing and start buying :)

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