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The Gods of Gotham (Gods of Gotham 1) Hardcover – 15 Mar 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review (15 Mar. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0755386744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0755386741
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.6 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 746,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Amazon Exclusive: Michael Connelly Interviews Lyndsay Faye

Michael Connelly: I think the first question is about the challenge you gave yourself with this book. Re-creating New York City circa 1845. The question I ask is, Why then? But what I am really asking is why you took the difficult path. Why not New York in 1945, or even now? I read this book and from the writer’s standpoint, kept asking myself, Why did she take this path? Wow!

Lyndsay Faye: Ha! Yes, absolutely—in a certain sense, the project was very difficult. My hubris in trying to write a novel set in 1845 New York was about the fact that I specifically wanted to do day one, cop one of the NYPD. Origin stories are very compelling. And when you think about how renowned the world over the NYPD is today, for reasons both positive and negative but all of them highly dramatic, you find yourself wondering what such an organization looked like at inception. It’s almost mythical, the fame they’ve achieved and the advances they’ve made, and I was deeply curious to know how they started out. I wanted to take a historical event and turn it into a legend, in the sense of making something iconic and resonant, and when I discovered that the NYPD was founded in 1845, my time period chose itself.

In another sense, I should add that I was once on a library panel where a very clever author said we don’t write historicals to choose the difficult path, but rather the lazy one. It’s almost impossible to commit a decent crime these days, what with CCTV and the Internet and credit-card tracking and forensics and ballistics and security cameras and such everywhere. I have a simple bachelor’s in English lit, not an advanced degree in criminal science, and to be honest, I find the complexity of modern-day crime solving much more intimidating when it comes to plot. I know that TV shows like CSI, etc., make it all look more magical than it is in fact, but I’m interested in how people solved crimes before forensics was even a line of study. How did the first cops go about it? What tools did they employ? I greatly enjoy reading modern mysteries, but I’m constantly staggered by the omnivorous technical know-how they require.

MC: What’s most impressive about this work is how the world of New York is so full and real. Can you walk us through the research that goes into a project like this? How long were you putting this part together before you actually sat down to write the book, or do both things happen at the same time?

LF: Thank you very much indeed—I want all of my historical fiction to be an immersive experience, so to create that effect, I bury myself in the world in question for at least six months before embarking on a first draft. This time around, that meant poring over diaries, setting up my own tent shanty in the New-York Historical Society, camping out with a cookstove in the Bryant Park extension of the New York Public Library’s microfilm department, etc. Syntax and fashion and food and architecture and all the other aspects of the culture fascinate me, so I try to soak it all in like a big fluffy pancake. It’s irritating for me to be constantly looking up facts or grasping at vernacular as I’m writing, so I’ve learned to spend half a year at research first. It saves me time in the long run.

My research includes history books, always, but original sources are ultimately much more important to me. I read all of the Herald newspaper from January 1st through December 31st for 1845, for instance. Countless people wrote travelogues and social essays and satires in nineteenth-century New York, and those were invaluable. I wanted to know what the people of the time period thought about their city, their politics, their lifestyle. What did they think and say about race? Religion? Where to get the best oyster pie? How that uppity tart cousin of theirs looked at the fireman’s ball last night? That journey of discovery is always a fabulous one.

MC: I think it’s easy in a historical novel to make the time and place the star—to sort of wow ’em with your research. That usually leaves the story short on character. You escaped that pitfall with a host of characters, leading with Timothy Wilde. It seems that equal preparation went into Wilde as did into your historical research. Can you say where Wilde comes from?

LF: See, this is something I love talking about, because historical fiction that shows off the research involved rather dismays me. The author presents you with a narrator who is, for example, a tavern girl. She’s plucky and wonderful and when running for her life from sinister guardsmen, she stops to tell you that the building she’s racing past was erected in 1814, by whom, with what variety of stone. I’m exaggerating, but I make it a principle not to include any information that my characters wouldn’t find relevant. Or I try my best to avoid it.

So it’s very fair to say that as much effort goes into my characters as into the world around them. Tim is culled from multiple sources. To name a few, when I realized that the early NYPD was inextricably tied up in politics, I determined that I wanted him to be an outsider with his own set of principles, yet I still wanted him to be highly competent. I was in the restaurant business for ten years; my husband and many of my closest friends are bartenders, and you ought to be aware that they know more about you than you suppose. Barkeeps are keen observers, and I realized that a former career in an oyster cellar would be grand training for the NYPD. Tim’s physical appearance is more or less based on a dear actor friend of mine I used to work with when I did musical theater. Many bits of Timothy are, of course, me. Fountains that don’t work make me irrationally annoyed; they annoy Tim, too. Finally, my favorite aspects of Tim are those sort of alchemical moments when a character you’re imagining takes on a life of his or her own.

MC: It was pure genius to anchor this story in two significant events—the potato famine and the founding of the New York Police Department. There is probably substantial documentation of these two things. How do you take them and blend them into fiction? Were you a slave to drama or a slave to the facts/truths of that time?

LF: The historical confluence of the Great Famine and the inaugural year of the NYPD was a gift of twenty-four-karat writerly gold. If I’d found a genie on a beach and asked it for ideal dramatic material, I couldn’t have done better. That was 100 percent luck, actually—I was researching the first cops, and then I found that the potato blight had just been discovered the previous year in Europe, and that thousands upon thousands of Irish were fleeing their homeland. “Native” New Yorkers were up in arms about emigrants ruining their democracy in the name of the Antichrist of Rome, all that unfortunate hyperbolic political grandstanding that happens when too many people want the same resources. It was total chaos, and it changed the face New York City society.

Blending the stories of the copper stars and of the emigrants was a challenge, but a riveting one for me. As you say, both the potato famine and the first police force are well documented. I was a slave to the facts in the sense that I wanted to do as much justice as possible to my ancestors, who were seeking new lives in what turned out to be a hostile environment. The influx of Irish refugees continued for quite some time, so I’d copious material to cull from. It became very real for me. The chapter titles all feature a quote from the time period, for instance, to help us bear in mind that poverty and religious bigotry and corruption were rampant and real. The thin line between success and despair they walked is as shocking and relevant today as it was then, so by virtue of being a slave to the facts, I managed to be a slave to the drama simultaneously.

MC: Your last novel, Dust and Shadow, also blended fiction and fact—Jack the Ripper—and historical research. Aside from these two very large, real events that we start with in TGOG, was there a smaller, true incident that inspired this story?

LF: Yes, indeed. The story of Eliza Rafferty and her infanticide was entirely true—it took place in 1849 in a house at number 6 Doyer Street. When I read about her distress and incomprehension after killing her own child, I set myself the gruesome task of finding out what sort of life could inspire such an act. The neighbors were rightly shocked by the baby’s death, the police appalled. Today I think we’d term her state a psychotic form of severe postpartum depression, but apart from lacking modern medicine to save her and her child, she probably lacked everything else as well—ample space, adequate food, any sort of safety net whatsoever. As Tim’s introduction to the atrocities a policeman must face in order to do his job, it’s horrifying but also immediately brings home how high the stakes are going to be.

MC: Here’s one I bet you never saw coming. (Not really.) What is next for you? Will you stay with a historical project?

LF: Yes, I’m thick in the sequel to Gotham! It takes place six months later, in the winter of 1846. Timothy and Valentine have quite a bit of baggage to work through, after all, so I think it would be rather cruel not to give them a shot. The usual suspects will be back in force, and writing it has been a fantastic experience. I’ve never written a sequel before. Wish me luck! And thank you ever so much for the truly thought-provoking questions.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


'The Gods of Gotham' is a wonderful book. Lyndsay Faye's command of historical detail is remarkable and her knowledge of human character even more so. I bought into this world in the opening pages and never once had the desire to leave. It's a great read!' (Michael Connelly)

'Lyndsay Faye's exquisite new novel, The Gods of Gotham, plunges us into the teeming, sordid streets of Old New York...a raucous underworld of criminals and chiselers, the infamous Five Points, where thieves speak their own argot... In this vivid and impeccably crafted adventure, newly minted 'copper star' Timothy Wilde is the only man who can solve a series of gruesome murders. Faye's prose crackles with historical authenticity so cunningly rendered that readers will lose themselves from the very first turn of the page' (Katherine Howe, New York Times Bestselling author of THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE)

'Lyndsay Faye is a superstar caliber writer. She confidently and exquisitely recreates the past while her characters live on with you in the present, the elusive gold standard for a historical novel. The Gods of Gotham is a gift to the genre that readers will surely reslish while we wait for Faye's next one' (Matthew Pearl)

'Penetrating psychological study, flawless social history, beautifully crafted thriller... The Gods of Gotham is all these things, and a crackling great yarn to boot. Old New York has never been so blazingly alive. Lyndsay Faye is a writer to watch - and keep watching...' (Louis Bayard, author of SCHOOL OF NIGHT)

'Reading The Gods of Gotham is like being magically transported to another time. You'll be overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, smells and chaos of New York in the 1840s while never losing sight of the fact that this is a first-rate crime novel for any era. I can't wait to see what Lyndsay Faye will conjure next' (Otto Penzler, THE MYSTERIOUS BOOKSHOP)

'Intriguingly complex yet deliciously smooth, The Gods of Gotham is, in a word, stunning. The vivid characters and deft use of the historical setting read like the work of an established writer at the top of her (or indeed, his) career - that Faye is a newcomer is cause for an exuberance of fireworks, at the mere thought of so many superb novels yet to come' (Laurie R. King, New York Times bestselling author of THE GOD OF THE HIVE and THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE)

'The Gods of Gotham blew me away. Unflinching and bold, creative and dazzling cinematic, nineteenth century New York is still alive' (Laura Caldwell, author of LONG WAY HOME)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brett H TOP 50 REVIEWER on 12 May 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The author paints a convincing portrait of New York in 1845. In many ways it is a grim place with extreme poverty and sickness. Brothels abound and numerous abused and vagrant children live on the streets or in `bawdy houses'. This is a city which has grown rapidly to a population of some 400,000 and which is increasing in size daily as the Irish flood driven by the potato famine in their native land. The Irish jostle at the bottom of the social scale alongside the blacks and there is particular resentment towards Catholics.

The story is told in the first person by Timothy Wilde who loses his lodgings and his savings and is hurt in a great fire which devastates a large part of lower Manhattan. His brother, Val, who is older than him and with whom he has an extreme love hate relationship, is a political animal involved with the Democrats. As a result of this he secures a position as Captain in the fledgling police force, and manages to find a job for an initially reluctant Tim as police roundsman or a `Copper Star'.

Tim quickly finds himself involved with a case which involves the murder and disposal of a number of children. Unlike most of his colleagues who patrol the streets and intervene if they see something illegal, Tim's skill is in solving crimes. He is intelligent, resourceful, analytical and has a lot of perseverance. Whilst initially he, and the other members of the force are mainly observers, his skills are quickly recognised by George Washington Matsell, the Chief of Police and he is then given the go ahead to investigate crimes. A further essential skill in his new career is that he is sufficiently politically and emotionally astute to be able to make sensible judgements.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Algernon Flowers on 25 April 2012
Format: Hardcover
Gods of Gotham This atmospheric fictional tale set at the very beginnings of what we now know as the NYPD has everything. A touching love affair with a very surprising twist, characters that are all larger than life but entirely believable, an admirable hero who has a nice line in commentary, and a dark body-littered plot. With all that it boasts true originality, even the slang language that the reader learns as he reads is unlikely to be found elsewhere.
So, Alfie, what's it all about?
It is a New York, full of corruption, prostitution, drunkenness and of the poorest of Irish immigrants where barman, Timothy Wilde, is caught up in a terrible fire and scarred for life. He has lost his looks and his savings in the fire and, in doing so, also loses all hope of marrying Mercy Underhill, the Reverend's daughter. Mercy does her rounds giving charity to the desperate poor, even to the house of child prostitutes run by Silkie Marsh, unsurprisingly amid such corruption, a woman of power.
It is Timothy's hated brother Valentine who drums him into the newly forming `Police Force' and he finds his natural place in the world. A place where he can lick his wounds and find a use for himself. His qualities are soon required when he finds a young blood-soaked girl escaping from Silkie and a young boy's body is discovered, suffering horrific wounds. Timothy takes time to piece all the clues together but there are enough of them when a veritable graveyard of little bodies are discovered. Shock after shock is revealed before Timothy cracks the case and fences are mended, others broken in a very surprising way.
Timothy is a brilliant creation whose humour and wit are sprinkled about generously and his decidedly bigger brother, though having a very different philosophy, is also memorable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Denise4891 TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 8 May 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Gods of Gotham is a crime thriller with a difference. It's set in New York in the mid 1840s and our erstwhile narrator, Timothy Wilde, has rather reluctantly been recruited to join the 'Copper Stars', the city's burgeoning police force. His subsequent investigations into the deaths of a number of young orphans and child prostitutes bring him into contact with the squalor, depravity, corruption and ingenuity of New York's underbelly on a daily basis.

There's a cast of very colourful characters, not least Timothy's disreputable and very amusing brother Valentine and the formidable madam, Silkie Marsh. The language is equally rich and vibrant - one of Timothy's superior officers is compiling a 'Rogue's Lexicon' of slang terms used by the criminal classes to aid the detectives in their work, and the text is liberally sprinkled with colourful examples, giving the book an almost Dickensian feel at times.

The atmosphere of mid-19th century New York with its criminal gangs, corrupt politicians and influx of Irish immigrants, is skillfully drawn and Lyndsay Faye has created an empathetic, likeable but flawed protagonist in Timothy Wilde. I don't know if she's planning on continuing his adventures in a sequel, but if she is I'd be very interested in reading it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By FictionFan TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 10 Feb. 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Set in mid-19th century New York, this novel tells the tale of Timothy Wilde, a 'copper star' in the newly formed police force. When Timothy comes across a young girl in the streets dressed in a blood-soaked nightdress, he is soon sucked into investigating what seems to be a trail of horrific child murders going back several years. Are they the work of a deranged madman or is there a religious or political angle to the crimes?

The basic premise of the book is good and the descriptions of New York give a convincing picture of a lawless new city run by corrupt politicians and struggling to cope with the influx of Irish immigrants coming to America to escape from the poverty and starvation caused by the Irish Potato Famine. The author has written much of the book in the slang that was apparently current at the time and, while interesting at first, I found this a bit wearing after a while. Unfortunately, I also found the lead character quite unconvincing. The book is written in the first person and I felt Timothy's thought patterns and feelings made him seem more female than male - the author's voice showing through, I think. His constant musings on his love for Mercy Underhill started out quite poetically but eventually became somewhat tedious and repetitive. And though he is supposed to have an understanding of human nature and an ability to get people to tell him things, he seemed to spend most of his time not understanding the motivations of even the people closest to him.

Overall, the characterisation, for me, is flawed and the book was too long for its content - it could have easily been cut by a third without losing much in the telling. However the novel is quite well written despite the slang, the historical context is interesting and the basic plot is good. There's certainly enough to make this a promising first novel, and I will be interested to see how the author develops in future books.
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