Gone Girl‘s had a pretty easy run of it so far. The #2 book in the ranking, Al Lamada’s Sunset, is a fun ride and a classic type, but not a classic. Now comes Lyndsay Faye’s The Gods of Gotham, featuring NYC “copper star” Timothy Wilde. I’m not usually a big fan of historical novels, but this big-hearted story has all the urban urgency of 2013, including class warfare, racism, religious intolerance, graft and politics. Add in personal tragedy, fraternal discord, unrequited love, and still manage to have an uplifting, positive outcome… wow.
Never someone who did well in the “brown pie” section of Trivial Pursuit, it doesn’t take much to convince me that Faye’s vision of mid-1800s New York City is accurate. Timothy Wilde is a barkeep, with $400 in silver saved up with an eye toward marrying his beloved Mercy Underhill, when fire destroys his home, his livelihood, and his face. Reeling, he’s pressed into service in the new NYC police department by his brother, Valentine, who’s well-connected and active in city politics. With the large numbers of Irish emigrating to New York at the time, the police department’s job is more to keep the peace than to solve crimes, but Tim turns out to be a “dab hand” at detecting. He’s the kind of guy that people talk to.
The crime he’s solving: at first, it’s the horrific murder of one kinchen-mab (child prostitute). But with the discovery of a hidden graveyard, the number climbs to 19. Who is the shadowy figure who visits this house of ill-repute and bears away the bodies of murdered children, tearing their chest cavities into a the shape of a ragged cross and removing various organs? Is he the same person who is sending letters on the topic to the police and the newspapers? Anti-Catholic sentiment is accelerating, and the racism and barely suppressed violence of 1845 NYC feels remarkably timely.
The stakes are high, for the NYPD’s days will be numbered if the politics tip against them. It’s up to Tim and a few trustworthy others to solve it quickly and out of the limelight. And solve it he does, in a most surprising and satisfying fashion.
So what’s my call on the Edgars? It’s a tough one. Gone Girl and the Gods of Gotham are completely different in almost every aspect. For suspense, I’d have to give it to Gone Girl. For plot resolution, it’s a toss-up: you’ll like the ending of Gotham, but Gone Girl is satisfying in its own, frustrating way. For singular and well-developed characters, toss-up again. For enjoyment, it’s Gotham… just because I don’t like being jerked around, even if it’s good for me. So I’m just going to bite the bullet and say Gone Girl. Gotham‘s fabulous, but Gone Girl‘s completely new.
MWA Edgar for Best Novel rankings: