Fresh Blood

Name: Lyndsay Faye

Title of Book: The Gods of Gotham

' ‘The Gods of Gotham’ is an inferno of a book – on fire and blazing a red hot trail through today’s crime fiction. '

The year is the summer of 1845 in New York and with the heat there are tensions bubbling under the surface waiting to break out. The city is groaning under the weight of Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine of their homeland and looking for a new beginning. However, the natives aren’t exactly friendly. The Irish faith is also under question and what should have been a new dream has become a living nightmare. To face these troubles a new police force is formed and one of the first recruits is Timothy Wilde, brother of Valentine Wilde who uses his social standing to induct Tim as a police officer. But Tim wishes his elder brother would simply leave him alone to get on with his own life.

Starting a new life in his ‘precinct’ Timothy Wilde begrudgingly takes to life a as ‘copper star’ until one night on his rounds a young girl runs in to him, her dress covered in blood. It is this single event that leads Wilde deep underground to the brothels of New York who supply the usual, but also something a little different if the client so wishes. It isn’t until his new charge leads Wilde to some scrubland that a shattering secret kept many years is revealed. With this latest discovery Wilde is determined to get to the truth.

As tempers fray between New Yorkers and the Irish in the heat of the day Tim Wilde must search deep to find the culprit who has the blood of so many innocents on his hands, but little does he realise that this case will have such an impact on his own life.

‘The Gods of Gotham is a thrilling and beguiling Gothic tale of innocence, the antagonism between brothers, faith and a nation standing on the precipice of a new age. Faye is extremely adept at characterisation, bringing the people on the page to life. The love/hate relationship of the Wilde brothers is well portrayed without getting tedious and it is good to not have the hero as tall, dark and handsome. If anything Tim is short, fair and after being caught in an explosion, anything but handsome. I greatly enjoyed Faye’s creations of George Washington Matsell and his sidekick, Mr. Piest who is macabre and believable and Madam Marsh who is cold and calculating and could easily been conceived by the great Dickens himself.

Faye brings the city of New York alive and you can tell through her writing that she has a great love and respect for the city despite depicting its darker depths. By using the rogue’s patter of ‘flash’ Faye adds another dimension to her book. I felt that it took me a little time to find the rhythm of the language but once I was settled Faye manages to include the language with fluidity, without it jarring and it simply becomes another piece of the tapestry she is sewing upon the page. This is a new and exciting historical novel which has everything that will entrap a reader to devour Faye’s spellbinding tale. ‘The Gods of Gotham’ is an inferno of a book – on fire and blazing a red hot trail through today’s crime fiction.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) What first made you want to write a crime novel?
Basically, I’ve been an obsessive fan of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries since I was a child. There’s something so magical about them, about a talented crime solver with his own unique moral compass shining light into the dark places. My first novel, ‘Dust and Shadow’ is a pastiche in which the Great Detective and the Good Doctor solve the Jack the Ripper murders. ‘The God of Gotham’ is my first foray into my own eccentric heroes.
2) You are a trained actress who has starred in many period dramas. Did this experience give you a taste for the past or has it always fascinated you?
I think the past has always fascinated me, which made me automatically suited to period drama. The language never intimidated me since I’d been reading such things for pleasure since I was a kid. I also have a nose sharp enough to cut glass and a pale, not to say consumptively pasty, complexion, so I landed in more than my share of Victorian revivals. I do believe that my actor training helps me enormously when creating characters and crafting dialogue.
3) You use a language I am sure many of us crime readers have never heard of before. Can you give us a quick history of ‘Flash’? How did you find out about ‘Flash’ and what made you decide to incorporate it in to your story?
The first New York City Chief of Police, George Washington Matsell, discovered soon after the force’s inception that some of his copper stars were unable to understand the criminal argot of the streets, which was called “flash,” or flash patter. The jargon was brought over to the States from England, where it would have taken the form of thieves’ cant, but when it arrived in New York with the poorer classes, it soaked up German and Dutch slang and morphed into flash. Matsell eventually wrote a dictionary called Vocabulum, or the Rogue’s Lexicon for his star police.

Language and its organic qualities fascinate me, and I’m a huge fan of dialect - I used to like nothing better than learning to use a new accent when I was doing theatre. Flash is such a gritty, savoury mess of a tongue that I couldn’t help but incorporate it into The Gods of Gotham. Tim’s older brother Valentine Wilde speaks it (because he’s a bit of a rogue himself) as well as the newsboys who help Tim in his quest (because they live on the streets).
4) The events in ‘The Gods of Gotham’ take place when New York was flooded with Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine of 1845 – 1852. It states that a million people died and a million emigrated, many for the US shores. It was also a time when the police department was in its infancy. Did these instances in time make you decide to choose this particular time period?
I wanted to do day one, cop one, of the NYPD. Who were the very first copper stars? How did they solve crimes? How does anyone solve crime before forensics was even thought of as a science? When I learned the star police were founded in 1845, I began researching the era, and was frankly shocked to discover that the Great Famine began the identical year. What a clash that must have been, I thought, and sure enough, it was a strikingly dramatic era for Manhattan. The city had nowhere near enough jobs or housing to cope with the influx of Irish, and the Irish had nowhere else to go. It was one of those unforgettable moments in American history.
5) Timothy and Valentine Wilde are both very strong and volatile characters. How did they both come to be?
Thank you! Well, to take Timothy first, since he’s the narrator after all, I wanted to create someone outside the political sphere that so influenced the early police force - an independent thinker, a bit of a vigilante. I made him a bartender because I wanted him to have a natural knack for observation, and bartenders, let me tell you, know everything about their patrons. As for his personality, he’s had a hard life - the brothers lost their parents when Tim was ten and Val sixteen, so Tim’s strength of character certainly has a dark side. Like most people, he’s a mass of contradictions. He’s very keen, but knows next to nothing about the people he loves most. He has darkly ironic sense of humour, but never laughs.

Valentine is my favourite character to write I’ve ever come up with, hands down, no contest. He’s the older brother who’s better than you at practically everything, the one you adore and loathe in pretty much equal measure. He’s massively id-driven, audacious, capable, cutting, charming, funny, cold, and addicted to everything he can get his hands on. Did I mention bisexual? As for whether or not he’s honourable, I’ll leave that for the readers to decide at the end of the novel.
6) It is well known that you are a great follower of Sherlock Holmes and have written your own novel, ‘Dust and Shadow’ about the great detective and Dr. Watson. What do you think is Holmes’ appeal to millions of people over a hundred years after his inception?
People who read the stories for the first time and don’t go back to them afterward are reading them for the solution to the mystery, the phenomenal quality of the writing, the fact they’re truly ripping adventure stories. People like me and other Sherlockians and Holmesians and collectors and fangirls and fanboys and trivia junkies who read them over and over again are reading them because they’re a staggeringly beautiful portrait of a forty-year friendship. You can’t ask for better.
7) ‘Dust and Shadow’ brings together fact and fiction in the form of Jack the Ripper and Holmes. What is it about these two that is such a fascinating combination? Do you think if Holmes had been real that we would know the Ripper’s identity today?
Holmes was real! *cough* In one sense, Holmes and the Ripper are a natural match, since Holmes was in London and solving crimes full steam during the six or so months Saucy Jack was at his dirty work. In another sense, they’re a terrible match, because your necessary narrator, Dr. John H. Watson, MD, was a good, brave man and an impeccable Victorian gentleman—if you posit they were involved, it’s terribly difficult to make Dr. Watson’s pen write about such graphic details as a stolen uterus or genital mutilation. He was a man of the world, but the material is far, far darker than anything Doyle tackled in the original tales. On the other hand, you can’t ignore what really happened, not if you have any respect whatsoever for the victims. It’s a hugely difficult balancing act.
8) You are currently writing the follow-up to ‘The Gods of Gotham’. Can you give us the literary version of a ‘canapé’ to wet our appetites?
It’s set six months later, all the usual suspects return, and in it I continue to do terrible, terrible things to Timothy and Valentine Wilde.
9) If you had a gun to your head (only figuratively speaking) who would you have play your main protagonists, Timothy and Valentine Wilde?
This is seriously the hardest question to answer, because I based Tim’s appearance on an actor friend of mine, so in my head I already know what Tim looks like. I really wish I had a better answer to this question. They live so fully in my imagination, I honestly can’t picture who’d best play their roles. I can say with certainly that Steve Buschemi would make a stellar Jakob Piest, however.
10) What is your ultimate favourite crime novel of all time?
Other than the Sherlock Holmes mysteries? The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. I’m in awe of every sentence of that book.