New York City. 1845. The city has just formed a municipal police force, much to the dismay of many residents, whose disdain for a “standing army” often simply masked a disinclination to be policed. Timothy Wilde, almost as strongly disinclined to be a copper star, nonetheless finds himself on the force, thanks to a lack of options after a calamitous fire, and his charismatic, debauched brother’s political influence. When a fleeing child prostitute, covered in blood, runs literally into his arms, he is forced to invent methods of detecting a criminal.
There is so much to like here. The politics of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment are central to the story. The pacing and relationships are expertly handled, especially Timothy’s tender, largely unspoken crush on Mercy Underhill, and his anger at his brother Valentine. The slang of the era adds authenticity and color. The crime itself, dark as it may be, is handled with a degree of delicacy.
Want a great mystery that will surprise you again and again? Right here. Looking for a thoroughly researched historical novel, with fascinating information seamlessly integrated into the story? Look no further. Remember Caleb Carr’s The Alienist? This one’s even better. Lyndsay Faye has written the best mystery I’ve read in years.