My rating: 2 of 5 stars
What is it about 1850s New York and 1890s London? Lately I feel I’ve been swamped in sepia tone, between Copper and Ripper Street on BBC America, Lincoln (all right, that’s 1860s Washington, but see my point) and now The Gods of Gotham. Everything about this story feels brown and grimy. A young man with a bizarre backstory and a ridiculously larger than life older brother – fireman by day, politico by evening, morphine-addled reprobate the rest of the time – finds himself one of the newly minted copper stars. He’s supposed to be a reluctant, grudging beat cop, but immediately (and I mean immediately) finds himself in the middle of a gruesome case involving child prostitution and a series of deaths that must be solved. Almost as immediately he and his boss discover he’s got what it takes to be (what is not yet called) a detective.
It really is a cross between The Gangs of New York and The Alienist. Five Points, police, politics, morality, immigration (oh, yeah – everybody hates the Irish.)
Lindsay Faye is gifted at sketching out a young New York that really hasn’t begun to move north along Manhattan yet – Harlem is a sleepy farm community, and most of the action takes place at the foot of the island. The characters were a bit harder to envision: I kept forgetting the name of the main character (it’s Timothy) and could not for the life of me understand any motivation for the actions of the female love interest. Val (see above, reprobate) is charismatic, but I couldn’t tell you why he’s meant to be charismatic. And ultimately there is no denouement: the incredibly elaborate sordid juncture of crusaders for children’s rights, panderers of child prostitutes, religious zealots, and corrupt politicians falls apart. The criminals are identified but left to heaven. The story just fizzles out. And a good murder mystery shouldn’t fizzle.
There is an historical afterward, which is meant to tie the story to the period and the characters to real-life personages who helped shape the city as it sprawled. Ultimately, though, the story felt like a pitch for the start of a series: another Last Days of Newgate. with about the same level of young man of the city who pulls himself up by his bootstraps and proves that he’s smarter than his betters.
This reads as mean-spirited; more than anything I’m disappointed, because the story held promise, and for the first hundred pages I kept expecting the threads to pull together.