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This review is from: The Gods of Gotham (Gods of Gotham 1) (Hardcover)
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The Gods Of Gotham should be so much better.
New York City in 1845 was a real melting pot with boatloads of new migrants coming from around the world - particularly from Ireland. There was tension between the American born, Protestant citizens and their new arrived, Catholic migrants. There was crime, squalor, corruption, poverty and fire.
Unfortunately, Lyndsay Faye has taken these ingredients and produced an overly long and muddled novel. On the surface it flatters to deceive. The reader assumes that it is a book of significance given its rich ingredients, but at heart it is not well written, poorly paced and lacks any real depth of characterisation.
Let's take just a selection of the shortcomings by way of example.
The novel takes at least a third of its length to even set up the premises - Tim Wilde becoming one of the city's newly minted police officers investigating a dead child. This is way too long and really confusing. Wilde seems to have taken the job to please his brother - who is probably corrupt and involved in politics in a role that is never properly explained; he has a natural intuition that allows him to understand people, spot lies, and know who to trust - except in the specific instances when it actually matters. The set up feels contrived and the characters never feel real.
The novel uses "flash" language - a thieves argot. Tim understands the language from his work in an oyster bar, thereby allowing him to converse with the street urchins of the city. Unfortunately, the use of flash feels heavy handed when used to report conversations with newspaper boys and renders the section unreadable. Flash words are dropped into the rest of the narrative for no obvious reason - kinchen mabs, stargazers and hushes abound, even from the lips of middle class citizens.
The pacing is wrong. At numerous points, what should have been breathless scenes are ruined by the pointless insertion of description. The shock is lost completely. This is coupled by an irritating habit of ending chapters on cliffhangers but then starting the next chapter in a different scene telling slow backstory. The tension dissipated and by the moment of reveal, the reader has forgotten the cliffhanger altogether. This happens over and over again, even in the final chapters which should have raced by.
The detection process is not explained. Tim just manages to pull amazing deductions from the air (or from his butchers paper) having failed to make connections for many preceding pages. At the end, the case just comes together from nowhere with one brilliant insight leading to a sequence of many more insights. Thus, the complicated and mystifying plot is resolved very quickly - and that's about the only thing in the book that is quick. Perhaps that's why Lyndsay Faye tried to put in some of the detail, just to slow down this breakneck speed and make it feel more like a process. And did I mention that the whole mystery relies on a series of coincidences that even Dickens could not have contrived?
Tim's relationships with others never feel quite real. He is a bachelor who harbours secret designs on Mercy Underhill, a clergyman's daughter. He has frequent contact with Mercy and her father, yet neither suspects his hidden ardour. Tim's brother Val keeps popping up in a variety of guises - politician, fireman, chief of police, vagabond - but there is no consistent narrative thread to hold him in place. One wonders why Tim gives him time of day, yet he seems to be forever in Val's thrall. It feels fake.
There is way too much research. Each chapter starts with a quotation designed to underpin an air of sectarianism against the Irish migrants. But this starts each chapter in an overly academic way and it's a tone that the narrative then fails to shake off. There are whole paragraphs - whole pages - dedicated to explaining a history to the reader which Tim, as a first person contemporaneous narrator, should have taken as read. There is too much focus on telling and not enough on showing. And it pops up at the wrong moments - walking up a blind alley to get duffed up, does Tim really think the reader needs a history of the shipping of cattle into New York City? When Tim faces down a riot, would he really step aside to tell the reader his theories that riots are created by artifice and have links with the political classes? Perhaps not.
But the biggest failing of all - especially for a thriller - is that the novel is boring.