Bartender-turned–“copper star” Timothy Wilde returns in a second mordant historical mystery (The Gods of Gotham, 2012).
It’s been less than a year since the fire that consumed his savings and scarred his face led Timothy reluctantly to join the brand new New York City Police Force that gets its nickname from its star-shaped copper badges. Now, on February 14, 1846, he’s congratulating himself for solving the theft of a painting when Lucy Adams bursts into police headquarters at the Tombs with the news that her sister, Delia, and son, Jonas, have been kidnapped. Lucy and her kin are free blacks from Albany, she tells Timothy, but “[s]lave agents care nothing for that, when the chance for profit is high enough.” When Timothy manages to rescue Delia and Jonas with the help of his brother Valentine, he learns that their abductors have powerful political protectors in the Democratic Party machine, of which Valentine is a loyal member. Furthermore, Lucy is secretly married to a white state senator whose associates in Tammany Hall have every reason for wanting to get her quietly out of town. Silkie Marsh, the evil brothel madam Timothy foiled previously, turns out to be centrally involved in both the abductions and the plan to eliminate Lucy—and Madam Marsh hates Timothy just as much as ever, while still pining for drug-addicted Valentine. The brothers’ relationship remains fraught but enduring as multiple plot complications ensue; Timothy’s loathing of slavery and friendships with several African-American activists give the novel its moral fire. As was the case in The Gods of Gotham, Faye folds a blistering indictment of prejudice and persecution of the defenseless within a satisfyingly complex mystery. Its resolution saves some of the innocent and punishes a few of the guilty without pretending that society’s basic injustices have been ameliorated.
Vividly atmospheric; the thieves’ slang all by itself evokes 19th-century New York with wonderful specificity. Let’s hope Faye finds more dirty work for her intriguingly conflicted hero.