The Gods of Gotham

Written by Lyndsay Faye
Review by Kathryn Johnson

It’s 1845 and, until now, New York City has had no police force. Many citizens believe that government interference in their lives should be limited. (Sound familiar?) However, when the great potato famine hits Ireland and the city swells with impoverished immigrants, an already severe crime problem forces the establishment of the first NYPD. Officers wear cheap copper stars, invoking sneers: “Copper!” Timothy Wilde, without a job since his bar burned down, is a reluctant recruit assigned a beat in the notorious Sixth Ward. When he finds a young girl covered in blood, he knows he should turn her over to the House of Refuge, but his conscience won’t let him. The abuse there is horrific. Besides he needs to sort out the evil that doused her in the blood of another person. What he discovers are dozens of children’s bodies thinly buried in a forest north of 23rd Street. And the hunt for a serial killer is on!

This is a stellar novel in more ways than one. Faye is admittedly a plotting virtuoso, but she’s even more adept at portraying the streets of 19th-century New York City in all of their teeming, steaming, reeking glory. The city is tough, and the men and women who have taken on the job of keeping it safe must be tougher. There’s Timothy breaking heads on his beat, his romantic obsession Mercy Underhill risking death to tend the diseased, the priest whose cathedral is desecrated in the worst possible way, the famous George Washington Matsell who published his flash (street talk) dictionary and headed up his coppers. If you love Caleb Carr’s or Matthew Pearl’s stories, you’ll relish Lyndsay Faye’s latest in what this reader hopes will become a long, long run of vibrant historical thrillers.