Wednesday 13 December 2017

Review: The Gods Of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

Headline, £14.99

New York City only formed an official police department in the summer of 1845, the same year the Irish Famine caused waves of emigrants to cross the Atlantic in search of a better life. According to Lyndsay Faye's historical mystery, these are events that "will change the city of New York forever."

This time of upheaval and change provides excellent fodder for a historical novel, though Faye compares the anti-Catholic rhetoric of the time to modern anti-Muslim rhetoric post 9/11.

She says that her intention was to go back to "day one, cop one" of the NYPD. Enter Timothy Wilde, the younger brother of the Democratic Party's dashing Capt Valentine Wilde (who is desperate to keep on the right side of the mass of Irish immigrants in New York, as he needs their votes). Whereas his brother has a way with women, Timothy has Sherlock-inspired powers of detection, which means that in a city of millions of people, he's able to identify murdered children within a matter of minutes.

Amid the anti-Catholic sentiment that is rife throughout the city, where Catholics are being blamed for everything from vice and disease to witchcraft, Timothy is the detective-as-superman.

Faye has clearly undertaken meticulous research and creates a convincing insight into a world of death and decay, riots and religious fervour, where Irish Catholics are deemed to be sub-human. The whodunnit element is very clever, as the ending comes as a complete surprise and all loose ends are satisfyingly tied up. But it does take a long time to get there.

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