Always count on Lyndsay Faye for lots of atmospheric and interesting historical details, and a juicy, emotionally resonant mystery. This wasn’t my favorite of hers, but I’m definitely going to be continuing the series.
Timothy Wilde has 400 dollars saved up, and a job tending bar, until a fire devastates his neighborhood, and injures him so severely his face becomes permanently disfigured. It’s 1845, and the NYC police department is in its infancy. There is a potato blight hitting Ireland, and thousands upon thousands of Irish immigrants arrive by the boatload, only to be greeted in their new country by scorn, bigotry, poverty, and violence. America, it seems, has always had a problem with immigrants. Only real Americans in America, because we stole this land fair and square from its original inhabitants and slaughtered them wholesale like the good upstanding hypocrites that we are!
Anyway, this book brings together all these factors, and Timothy’s new job as a Copper Star, which he turns out to be good at against his will, with a series of child murders. Somebody is killing orphaned, children viciously, with a seeming religious motive, and the murders are so vicious that it doesn’t even seem to matter the children are Irish and to a one mabs (prostitutes). The most fascinating part of the book for me was seeing the politics and social values of the day play out in context. Though her main character is a man, all the rest of the best characters are women.
It is a tiny bit fraught reading this now in 2021. When it was first published in 2012, issues of police violence and institutional racism were not in the mainstream vernacular, and now they are. Nothing in here is offensive (at least nothing that isn’t meant to be; it is historical fiction after all), but I can’t help thinking it would have been a different, less complicated reading experience if I’d have read it when I first put it on my TBR. If anything, the book doesn’t shy away from the police department’s roots as being inherently muddy from the beginning, and Faye’s hero Wilde stands apart even from many of his fellow Coppers.