Top critical review
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Promising but flawed...
on 10 February 2012
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.