In pre-Civil War New York, a reluctant cop must find a murderer preying on child prostitutes as tensions escalate between locals and Irish immigrants. Lindsay Faye's novel The Gods of Gotham has just been nominated for an Edgar Award and in a year that was filled with outstanding historical mysteries, from The Killing of Emma Gross to The Technologists, this book stands out.
There is meticulous attention to period detail and excellent character work. The writer offers up four plausible candidates for the role of the killer and the revelation of who’s responsible will come as a surprise even for a reader paying close attention.
Be warned though, the plot is so dark it makes Caleb Carr's The Angel of Darkness look like a Nancy Drew mystery with a portrait of a cold-hearted madam that is chilling. Fans of the BBC America series Copper may find this book particularly engaging with its blend of crime and politics.
In Gods of Gotham the hero and investigator is a former barman who becomes a "copper star" after his life savings bur up in a fire that destroys his lodging. Timothy Wilde is no stranger to the mean streets of the city but even he is shocked when a madam who specializes in child prostitutes is protected by the Democratic Party because she's a generous benefactor.
The characters here are rich and layered, and their relationships are believable and adult.
Timothy is a complex man but his older brother Valentine is even better. There’s something twisted and tweaked about him and when we find out what it is, it explains a lot. Then there's Mercy, the do-gooder who is Timothy's childhood friend and the love of his life. As with Timothy and Valentine, there's a lot more going on with her than meets the eye.
Timothy has a large and eclectic circle of friends that include a former "oysterman" and a group of "newsies" who have banded together in an informal family. His landlady, a baker's widow, has a life filled with sorrow and a practicality that serves Timothy well.
Father Sheehy, an Irish Catholic priest who helps Timothy, is what a priest should be—a man who is ready to defend his flock—at gunpoint if necessary—and who harbors a fine, fierce outrage over injustice. He reminds us a bit of characters from the works of Andrew Vachss where the protagonists are always on the childrens' side. Then there’s Matsell and Piest, Timothy’s colleagues on the police force. They both turn out to be (again) terrific characters.
It seems likely that this is the first in a series of books about these characters and the characters are up to the task of keeping readers interested from one book to the next.