I hope you are enjoying the Reader's Den selection for November, The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye. The year is 1845 and the story revolves around the establishment of the first official New York City Police Department. I just finished re-reading it and found it retained its interest and appeal the second time around, which is not usually the case with mysteries. I know, I know: Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Miss Marple and/or Hercule Poirot and Agatha Christie, Nero Wolfe and Rex Stout. Indeed, the exception proves the rule; these characters and authors are exceptional, and, in my opinion, so are Timothy Wilde and Lyndsay Faye.
Faye’s bio on her website shows that she grew up in the Pacific Northwest, then lived in the Bay Area in California, and moved to New York City as an adult in 2005. Her first book, Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson, was published in 2009. (I was surprised to find NYPL has it in Russian as well as in eBook format.) In this book she also shows remarkable attention to historical detail in Victorian London. Faye is a member of the Baker Street Irregulars,”the literary society dedicated to the study of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Victorian world.”
Faye’s second book, The Gods of Gotham, was published in 2012 and was nominated for the 2013 Edgar Award as Best Novel. Not too shabby considering the other contenders in 2012 and especially when the winner was one of Faye’s favorite authors, Dennis Lehane for his book Live by Night. She said she felt like a winner just being on the list of nominees with him. The Edgar® Awards, named for Edgar Allan Poe, are presented annually by Mystery Writers of America. Faye is a member of MWA/New York Chapter and often participates in the monthly panel discussions at Mid-Manhattan Library. Check out the list of previous Edgar Award winners to find more great mystery titles.
I’ve been fortunate enough to hear Faye discuss her work many times, and one of the questions she is most often asked is why she chose to write a mystery set in New York City in 1845. The short answer is that she wanted to read a book about Day One of the New York City Police Department and its first policemen. Since that book didn’t exist, she had to write it.
The long answer is that with this book Faye chose to write an origin story, a term often used with comic book superheroes and how they became superheroes (examples: the 2005 film Batman Begins and the Superman: Man of Steel DC Comics series). Faye, along with most of us, is interested in how it all started, what happened at the beginning, and who the heroes were.
The term "origin story" can also be applied to creation stories and myths, be it Genesis or Greek mythology. Almost all cultures and religions have such a story of how the world began. The definition can also be extended to “pourquoi” stories for children, stories that explain why something is the way it is (example: Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, which has not been out of print since 1902).
After reading Faye’s online bio, I noticed that both Faye and Timothy Wilde worked as bartenders. Some of Timothy Wilde’s traits and habits came from skills she learned in that trade, like reading lips in noisy bars, observing and remembering the personal details of customers, being able to tell when people are lying from their body language, and the ability to invite confidences and keep them. On the other hand, although Faye was also formerly a professional actress in musical theater, Timothy Wilde has yet to burst into song. Maybe he will in one of the following books (or not).
Last week I mentioned that Faye has just published the second book in the trilogy, Seven for a Secret. I'm not giving away the ending by saying that just as book one concerns the plight of Irish immigrants in New York City, the second book is about slavery and the treatment of free people of color in New York City in 1846, several years before the Civil War. I asked Faye when the third book in the trilogy will be published. She has finished writing it, it is now in copy editing, and the likely publication date is January 2015. Its theme is the plight of women in New York City in the same time period. Although she hasn’t revealed the topic of her next book to me, I am confident I will enjoy it whether it is set in ancient Byzantium or contemporary West Virginia.
Next week I'll post a few questions about your recent literary visit via The Gods of Gotham to New York City in 1845 and its inhabitants. In the meantime, keep those pages turning. If you have a favorite book about NYC, please let me know, I’m always looking for another book to read about my favorite city.