Book Review: The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye
by Lyndsay Faye
Berkley Books, 2012
Take two historic events, stir in New York City, add a mystery, and you have an absorbing story.
Before 1845, New York City had no police force. That year, a new group of “roundsmen” tried to maintain law and order in the city, but not all New Yorkers welcomed or trusted them. New Yorkers met the men who wore copper stars with sneers and resentment. In the same year, Irish emigrants fled the potato famine in their home country and descended upon the city by the thousands. New Yorkers reviled the poor, hungry, diseased, predominately Catholic Irish arrivals. This historical fiction novel relates the story of what could happen in New York City during the birth of a new police force and a dramatic change in demographics.
Lyndsay Faye tells the story through the voice of Timothy Wilde, a man who has the course of his life altered by traumatic fires. Wilde is one of several characters who personify Faye’s theme of the human need to “pick up and keep going, or pick up and keep going in a slightly different direction” after tragedy. Wilde is a likeable character who gives us gems like: “. . . idiots treasure their facts like newborns . . .” and “Hopstill [a minor character] is a menace to cheerful thought.”
Faye uses the terminology of the time, and provides a handy reference guide to the “Flash” dialect of the mid-1800s. The language suits the character and the story, and doesn’t become tiresome. She adds authenticity to the tale when she mixes real people, like George Washington Matsell, into the story. (He oversaw the founding of the police force.)
Faye’s creates characters with complexities and contradictions—believable characters, in other words. She bluntly spells out the depravities of the time, and the abuse the Irish and the blacks endured, but still manages to keep the story uplifting and with enough goodness to keep us believing in the human spirit.
I’m a fan of historical fiction—I love to learn while I being entertained. I learned many things about New York City that I did not know, and I was entertained.