Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: The Gods of Gotham

Summary: 1845. New York City forms its first police force. The great potato famine hits Ireland. These two seemingly disparate events will change New York City. Forever. 

Timothy Wilde tends bar near the Exchange, fantasizing about the day he has enough money to win the girl of his dreams. But when his dreams literally incinerate in a fire devastating downtown Manhattan, he finds himself disfigured, unemployed, and homeless. His older brother obtains Timothy a job in the newly minted NYPD, but he is highly skeptical of this new "police force." And he is less than thrilled that his new beat is the notoriously down-and-out Sixth Ward-at the border of Five Points, the world's most notorious slum. 

One night while making his rounds, Wilde literally runs into a little slip of a girl-a girl not more than ten years old-dashing through the dark in her nightshift . . . covered head to toe in blood. 

Timothy knows he should take the girl to the House of Refuge, yet he can't bring himself to abandon her. Instead, he takes her home, where she spins wild stories, claiming that dozens of bodies are buried in the forest north of 23rd Street. Timothy isn't sure whether to believe her or not, but, as the truth unfolds, the reluctant copper star finds himself engaged in a battle for justice that nearly costs him his brother, his romantic obsession, and his own life. -- Amy Einhorn

I debated whether I should save this review for THE GODS OF GOTHAM by Lindsay Faye for a Mystery Monday post, but I was so impressed with this novel that I felt it was more appropriate to feature it on its release date. I was prepared to enjoy THE GODS OF GOTHAM because it is an Amy Einhorn book and that usually means it's going to be a special book. However, I was even surprised by how much I appreciated this historical thriller.

THE GODS OF GOTHAM is an outstanding example of well-crafted mystery as well as a fascinating historical novel. It really is the best of both worlds. The story takes place in New York City in 1845 at a critical juncture in the city's history -- when the great potato famine hits Ireland and a formal police force is formed in New York City. The author brings together these seemingly separate events, along with the discovery of dozens of children's remains, and weaves an intriguing tale of murder and deception.

I could go on and on and the uniqueness of THE GODS OF GOTHAM, and honestly, I'm impressed with so many aspects of this novel that I don't know what I liked the most about story. The writing, the historical details, the character development, and the mystery were all so well done; and all of this is a huge credit to Ms. Faye. Quite honestly, I was blown away by Ms. Faye's storytelling abilities. She created a complex mystery with dynamic characters; and at the same time, provided an insightful look at New York City in the mid 1840s.

One of the things that I most loved about THE GODS OF GOTHAM was the character of Timothy. I adored him! He survived not one, but two serious accidents, yet he was deeply affected psychologically as well as as physically. After he loses his job, his home, and his life savings, his politically connected brother gets him a job as a copper star on the newly formed police force; and Timothy finds himself involved in solving a gruesome murder (or should I say murders?) after he runs into a bloodied little girl. Timothy was initially reluctant to take a job as a policeman but his sense of justice and fairness prevailed.

The story is told in Timothy's voice and he is a wonderfully complex character. I loved how he went about solving these crimes, but also how he came to terms with his past. Timothy wasn't perfect, but he was an extremely likable character; and he even managed to infuse some humor into a pretty dark story. I appreciated how the author delved into his psyche and showed how conflicted he was about his brother and their relationship. My heart broke for him numerous times in the story, and I couldn't help but root for him to have something go right in his life.

Another fantastic element of this story was the mystery itself -- it was so good and had so many layers. Like Timothy, I didn't know who to trust and the events surrounding the murders didn't seem to make much sense. There were so many twists and turns in this novel that I wasn't quite sure where it was going. Suffice it to say that I thought I had the mystery figured out a few times, but I was wrong. When I actually did start seeing things fall into place, I still wasn't entirely correct about the motives. I love it when I can be surprised (over and over again!) in a book like this.

And finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention just how much I loved all of the historical elements. Ms. Faye did a wonderful job of bringing 1845 New York City to life. I can't hardly begin to imagine the amount of research she conducted prior to writing this story. She delved into many of the issues of that time including the poverty, the racial tensions, and the religious tensions; and at the same time, she infused some actual events and characters into this novel. I can't rave enough about how realistic the setting was for me.

There is one additional piece of information about THE GODS OF GOTHAM which makes me extremely happy. It is the first book in a series of crime novels! Ms. Faye has created a very special  hero in Timothy, along with a rich setting; and I can't wait to read more about his adventures.

Needless to say, when I like a book as much as THE GODS OF GOTHAM, I recommend it to book clubs. This novel is not only entertaining, but it has a great deal of issues to discuss. There is a reading guide available with thirteen questions (not too shabby for a mystery, right?) and it asks some thought-provoking questions. I think many of you will be surprised by the depth and scope of this guide. Some of the topics you might want to explore include morals/ethics, family dynamics, justice, grief, the role of women in that time period, racial tensions, religious discrimination, fears, religion/spirituality, and much more.

Fans of historical fiction and thrillers won't want to miss THE GODS OF GOTHAM. Highly recommended!

I picked up an ARC of this novel when I visited Aaron's Books a few weeks ago.


bermudaonion said...

I had no idea this is an Amy Einhorn book! That makes me very excited about it. Hopefully, I can get to it soon.

Serena said...

Wow, this sounds fantastic. I'm wondering though if there is enough about Ireland or Irish characters in it to count for the Ireland 2012 reading challenge!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Wow, this *does* sound great! I am dying to know what all happened!

Beth F said...

AWESOME review. Really. I had to hold off reading until I had my Imprint Friday post ready for tomorrow. Then I checked out what you had to say. Couldn't agree more. And in fact I'm quoting this review in my post. :))

Unknown said...

This book sounds fantastic! I love the New York City of old setting and Timothy's a fascinating character. I am also excited about the Irish connection ad the mystery. The Gods of Gotham is packed with absorbing storylines. I cannot wait to read it.

Your review is fantastic and your enthusiasm for this book has convinced me to read it!