Concluding volume in Faye’s gritty, atmospheric trilogy (Seven for a Secret, 2013, etc.) about New York City’s fledgling police force.
It’s 1848, and “copper star” Timothy Wilde enters, pursuing loathsome Ronan McGlynn, who entices newly arrived Irish girls with the promise of jobs and delivers them to brothels to be forced into prostitution. His silent partner is alderman Robert Symmes, a Tammany Hall stalwart like Timothy’s brother Valentine and one of the many full-bodied characters who return from the two previous novels to pose ethical quandaries for our hero. Disgusted by Symmes’ offer of virgin fare as a political favor, Valentine decides to run against him in an election that threatens Tammany’s grip on New York, as abolitionist Barnburners like the Wildes face off against Hunkers who want to appease the slave-holding South. Also fulminating against Symmes is Sally Woods, a fervent feminist who may be setting fires in his factories to revenge his quashing of a strike by female garment workers, as well as a more personal betrayal. Timothy must identify the arsonist while grappling with his feelings for Mercy Underhill, the unstable love of his life, and Elena Boehm, the landlady who occasionally shares his bed. Once again, Faye paints a mesmerizing picture, aided by vivid use of the thieves’ slang known as “flash,” of a city in the crude, brutal early stages of capitalism and democracy, where little heed is paid to the poor and powerless—until election time. The mystery is wonderfully tangled yet resolved with clarity; among the many intriguing developments is the semiredemption of Silkie Marsh, the spurned madam who plotted against the Wilde brothers but now proves (somewhat) less evil than her smooth superiors at Tammany Hall. A stark, satisfying finale provides justice for some, but not for all, as befits this uncompromising portrait of a morally ambiguous world.
More fine work from a writer smart enough to know when a series has run its course. It will be exciting to see what the talented Faye decides to do next.