If you like historical fiction or even if you just like a good mystery read this one!
Set in New York City in 1845 this novel is alive with detail that engages the reader from the first page. The protagonist, Timothy Wilde is left homeless, broke, unemployed and disfigured when a major fire burns most of lower Manhattan. Unable to find other work he accepts an appointment to the newly formed NYC police department and is given a copper star. NYC in 1845 is teeming with immigrants driven from Ireland by famine and deposited on the streets of New York. The city is constantly on edge anticipating riots as the native New Yorkers loath and fear the Irish. Wilde is dropped into the middle of this cauldron. He relocated to the poverty stricken Sixth Ward and begins his job as a policeman. In his first days he comes across a 10 year old girl running from a child prostitution ring. She tells him of a mysterious stranger who comes to the brothel and cuts up children. Soon a child’s corpse is discovered giving credence to her story. So the mystery begins.
There were so many good things about this book! It has marvelous historical detail written in very engaging prose. You really get a feel for life on the streets of NYC in the 1840s. The words that the author writes make the images of these streets come alive. The evolution of the main character Tim Wilde from a fairly timid bartender to the city’s first police detective is very good. His love affair with the minister’s daughter develops another facet of his character. He is an appealing character that you’ll find yourself rooting for throughout the book. The supporting characters – Wilde’s brother Valentine a rogue and a Democratic Party henchman, his love interest Mercy Underhill and her father Reverend Underhill, and Bird Daly the little girl who starts it all – are well developed and really add to the story. The history of the founding of the NYC police department (politicized from the get go!) is weaved into the story, with some real life characters to support it. The mystery itself is good and the denouement is excellent, but in the end this so much more than a mystery. The author has an earlier book about Sherlock Holmes and London (Dust and Shadow) that I am off to find and read. If you like historical fiction or even if you just like a good mystery read this one!
I read a copy of this novel borrowed from The Free Library of Philadelphia