The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

13th Sep 2012

the gods of gotham lyndsay faye

So begins the first in what I can only hope will be a long running series of whodunnits: Lyndsay Faye‘s The Gods of Gotham is filled with the just the right combination of historical intrigue and fast-paced, cliff-hanger filled writing to keep you nose-to-spine throughout.

Set in 1840s NYC, where politics and religion walk down the grubby streets arm in arm, this book’s setting is the wild and unpredictable world of the Five Points district, home to street gangs and racial tensions.

In his first adventure, Timothy must solve the mystery of a young Irish girl, covered in blood, who literally runs into him one night.

With the Irish famine forcing thousands from their homeland, emigrants find themselves in a New World where whisky is cheaper than bread and newspapers constantly besmirch them as worshippers of the whore of Rome.

Tensions in the city are running higher than ever before. Timothy must negotiate the various factions within New York, including the Democrats (led by his older brother Val), who seem to be less of a political party and more of a street gang.

This world is made all the more vivid by the dialect used throughout, known as ‘flash’ – a sort of cant used by the city’s underworld.

Faye handily provides a glossary, but most of the words are fairly recognisable (my favourite has to be ‘cow juice’ for milk).

Although there are parts of this book where the street gangs seem dangerously close to linking arms and bursting into ‘Consider Yourself One of Us’, the criminal underworld is shown as a truly horrible  – yet none the less exciting  – home.

Timothy Wilde himself makes for a likeable detective. In her central character, Faye has created someone who we witness inventing his own role, with his relationships with his brother and his childhood sweetheart Mercy providing room for the character to develop – although personally I’m more excited by the potential of his ballsy, cigar-smoking landlady Mrs Brohme.

The case itself, too, proves suitably macabre, involving as it does child prostitution and the mutilation of bodies. What makes this book stand out is Faye’s flawless attention to detail and the fascinating world of New York that she conjures up.

From the language used to the frank descriptions of early condoms and medical procedures, this is a world that draws you in, even as its subject matter may repulse: The Gods of Gotham is both good historical writing and great crime fiction.

The Gods of Gotham is out in paperback today, published by Headline and priced at £5.24.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended for: Fans of historical fiction – particularly historical crime, as well as anyone interested in the history of New York City.

Other recommended reading: Anne Perry’s historical detective fiction, Andrew Pepper’s Pyke mysteries, and of course Herbert Asbury’s 1928 non-fiction classic, Gangs of New York, which offers further fascinating incites into a city built on violence.

Jess Haigh