In the race to the finish, In the Shadow of Gotham takes the lead for the MWA Edgar award for Best First Novel by an American Author! It’s not terrifically surprising – Stefanie Pintoff’s debut was the winner of the Minotaur First Crime Novel Award Winner for 2010, and whether she takes the Edgar or not, this book will be honored at the Edgars awards ceremony in NYC on April 29.
Set in 1905, this mystery takes place in New York and features a well-educated and sensitive police detective, Simon Ziele, chasing a serial killer. Backstory: his fiance was killed in the General Slocum ferry disaster the previous year; as a policeman, Ziele was on hand to help with the rescue but was not able to save her. Now he’s been called to partner with an old-style police detective north of the city to solve a brutal murder. Victim Sarah Wingate is well-born, lovely, and an exceptionally insightful graduate student in mathematics at Columbia University, and she’s been slaughtered in her family home. Complicating the situation: one of the family servants has disappeared. Another victim? A witness? An accomplice?
Even more interesting is Ziele’s opportunity to collaborate with the rich and brilliant criminologist Alistair Sinclair, who has been conducting an in-depth personal study of a serial killer in the making – Michael Fromley – whom he believes he caught before he crossed the line from fascination to murder. He believes that Fromley killed Sarah Wingate, and he’s successful in convincing Ziele to look at the psychopathology in addition to investigating in his usual way.
The characterization is strong, the writing is smooth and self-assured, and the book has just the right amount of twists and turns. I was about to take off points for obvious tipping to the actual bad guy… but then, surprise! I was right, but not completely right. The hint of Ziele’s romantic interest in Sinclair’s daughter-in-law Isabella (widow of Sinclair’s son, who was murdered in a robbery in Greece – something the reader may think has a bearing on the case… but nope) gives a little sweetness to the story.
As a brief sample of Stefanie Pintoff’s style, here’s Simon Ziele’s description of the day his fiancee died:
Hannah had worn red that day – a new dress that warmed her skin and lit up her auburn hair. I had barely been able to breathe through thick, smoke-laden air as our boat came closer and closer, pulling up more survivors on the way. I helped them all, barely noticing, for I as vainly searching the waters for Hannah. Closer, closer, I had urged the helmsman, directing him toward the front bow of the ship where a young woman in red stood pressed against the ship’s rail. I couldn’t make out her face … couldn’t tell whether or not it was indeed her… and as we came close, all went black in a wall of fire.
So, with five of the six books read, here’s the line-up! Only David Cristofano’s The Girl She Used to Be left to go.