This one is a keeper. To me, the sign of efficient characterization is that the reader has the desire to stay with a character past the point of reason. The character relaying the story to the reader in The Gods of Gotham is a Mr. Timothy Wilde. From the moment Tim begins to describe the story he is going to relate I knew I would sacrifice sleep to stay with him and read it as quickly as possible.
Its 1845 and a fire and explosion in the Eighth Ward took his home, his life savings, and left him with a facial scar covering a quarter of his face. Lucky to have survived at all, and with such relatively minimal damage, Tim is left without a home or job. This scenario leads him to having no other choice than to accept a position with the newly established New York Police Department his brother Valentine secured for him. Since Tim, unlike Val, is not involved in Democratic politics he is sent off to the Sixth Ward, home of the infamous Five Points.
The story properly begins with Tim relating to the reader why he hates writing police reports, that they don’t capture the essence of the story. The police reports he’s writing all refer back the cases we’ll be tracing with him throughout the month of August, which are decidedly dark. Just a few weeks on the job Tim becomes entangled in solving the case of murdered children prostitutes who have been buried on the outskirts of New York. Tim is invested in discovering the truth of the children’s deaths, taking the reader with him as pursues information from ministers, priest, doctors, whores, newsboys, and anyone else he can think of.
Structurally the novel works well. The beginning of each chapter starts with a quote from various historical sources which recount the social milieu of the time. It can be difficult for a modern reader to understand the hatred and fear associated with the Irish and the Pope/Catholicism during the 1840s, but these quotes and the insights of certain characters including our decidedly unreligious protagonist the reader is given an understanding they may not have previously had. The other issue the quotes lay out for the reader is that of the economic and political climate of the 1840s.
The other bit of structure that can be handy as a reader is getting used to the vocabulary of the world is a ‘flash’ dictionary in the beginning of the novel. Certainly not comprehensive it is however an important reminder to the reader that many characters in the novel are so severely divided from proper speech as to have a language all their own. There is plenty of flash in the book that is not spelled out, but Lyndsay Faye does a good job of putting a character in place that needs to be translated for, and in turn translating for the reader.
An entirely engrossing read, I have already passed it along to a friend.
“And everyone alike indifferently happy for the three or four days September lasts before winter sets in.” p. 403