The Gods of Gotham

The Gods of Gotham by Lindsay Faye is an interesting story set in an interesting time. Set in New York in the mid 1840's when the Irish potato famine resulted in a massive influx of Irish immigrants that coincided with a horrific fire in New York City. Timothy Wilde is an Irish bartender who is in love with Mercy Underhill, a local Protestant minister's daughter. Mercy spends her days caring for the poor and sick Irish children of the city. Timothy and his brother Val were orphaned when their parents were killed in a fire. Val raised Timothy with help from the Reverend Underhill.

Timothy has been in love with Mercy for years but he loves her from a distance. He is about ready to tell her of his love when the devastating fire of 1845 intervenes. Timothy is severely injured, but survives with scarring from burns to his face. Val, a local firefighter rescued Timothy from under a pile of burning debris. Timothy hasn't seen Mercy since the fire.

Val is older then Timothy, physically larger, apparently smarter and definitely more politically savvy. He is on the move up the New York Irish political ladder. Val secures a job for the now homeless and penniless Timothy in the newly developed police force called the "Copper Stars." Tim is assigned to the worst section of the city - the filthy and crime ridden 6th ward. He dutifully walks his beat everyday from 4 am until 8 pm. Val meanwhile has been appointed a captain on the same force.

One night on his beat Timothy literally runs into a little girl in a blood soaked nightgown. She is mumbling about someone who is going to be torn to pieces, not making any sense. Timothy should take her to the police station but takes her home to his landlady instead. Birdy is 10 years old and experienced in worldly way a no ten year should be. Birdy is a member of a whore house and sold out to men every night. She tells Timothy many lies about what happened to her. Then the body of a male child is found and it does look as if he was torn to pieces. Timothy looks to Mercy to help identify the dead child and to Birdy for an explanation of what happened.

The book is set in an interesting time and Faye makes the most of it. The story line moves rapidly. From the politics of the Irish, to the formation of the unwanted and hated Copper Stars, to the mystery of just who is murdering these young children. Timothy's character speaks in the vernacular for the most part. It would be distracting but for 2 things: 1. the lexicon in the front of the book provides translations and (2) it is just his character. The story is based on the notion of child prostitutes, an unfortunate fact of life. The children's characters are made of stern stuff however and Timothy and Mercy are there for them.

It took me a bit to get into the flow of this book. But the story is captivating. The situation of the children, the religious clashes in New York City, the crime ridden portions of Manhattan and the political issues of the time made for a great read.

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