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Historical fiction with a social conscience,
This review is from: Seven for a Secret (Hardcover)
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Lucy Adams, a beautiful young woman of African descent, stumbles into New York police headquarters to file a report: her family has been stolen. Timothy Wilde and his colleague Jakob Piest, along with Timothy's unorthodox brother Valentine, are soon on the trail of certain blackbirders, men employed to capture escaped slaves and return them to their owners in the South. Shortly afterwards a body is found, and it is again up to Timothy, with the help of his brother and his friends, to discover the reason and the perpetrator behind the crime.
This is the second novel featuring Timothy Wilde, a copper star of the newly formed New York police, taking place about six months after the eventful days of the previous summer described in The Gods of Gotham. Those not familiar with Timothy Wilde will find him a short man with a big heart, an idealist, someone who learns people's secrets by listening to them, having been a bartender before a disastrous fire necessitated a change of career. Told in the first person, he allows the reader access to his innermost thoughts, and we discover that he is wracked by insecurities and has quite an unconventional way of looking at things. As in The Gods of Gotham, Seven for a Secret again features the use of flash, an historically documented mix of several languages primarily spoken "by the poorer classes and the more nefarious denizens of the ghettos where they were forced to live", but also used extensively by Timothy and Valentine. It's not essential to have read the first volume in the series, but it definitely helps to understand characters' back stories and certain events are referenced repeatedly during the course of the novel. It's a slow start where the main characters are introduced and the scene is set - a freezing cold New York - so that the violent crime that happens next really shocked me because it came so unexpected. Lyndsay Faye portrays a perverted world, one where segregation and casual cruelty against slaves, but also against freeborn citizens of African descent and those of a darker skin than the accepted Caucasian white, are the norm, and amalgamation and abolitionism are frowned upon and considered abnormal. The descriptions of inhuman treatment don't leave anything to the imagination and are often difficult to read, as are quotes from various primary sources such as first-hand accounts by slaves, so-called patriots or other chroniclers; they still manage to deliver a punch even after 170 years. With such a sombre background it is nearly inevitable that the central mystery takes a bit of a step back, and Timothy spends a lot of time criss-crossing the freezing streets in search of clues or pondering the significance of any new intelligence; in those parts the plot sags a bit in my opinion, but because Timothy is such an engaging and affable character, we willingly follow him.
Another worthwhile and thought-provoking read by Lyndsay Faye, and I hope this won't be the last time that Timothy Wilde has had occasion to employ his considerable skills of detection; I certainly hope to see Silkie Marsh, a very memorable villainess who we first encountered in The Gods of Gotham, receive her just deserts. More, please.