“Hope, I’ve discovered, is a sad nuisance. Hope is a horse with a broken leg.”
In 1845, Timothy Wilde becomes member of the newly minted New York Police force after a fire destroys his home, his employment and his looks. Despairing of ever winning the delightful Miss Underhill’s regard, and seeking to avoid his louche brother Valentine at all times and costs, Timothy tries enforce some law and order while being kind to the impoverished Irish immigrants. When a girl in a blood-drenched lace nightgown crashes into his knees one night in full flight, he finds a purpose to his employment: to avenge a terrible evil.
Tim is a standard tragic protagonist: good-hearted and cursed; nevertheless, he is likeable, realistic and pleasantly articulate. Mercy is a touch twee, always buried in Harper Brothers’ latest or charmingly tucking a strand of hair behind an ear, and I thought a few of her actions towards the end of the book were inconsistent with the persona that had been constructed for her thus far. Valentine rides the line between good and evil marvellously, and the reader isn’t sure right until the end whether he might be the villain.
The revelation of the villain, when it eventually comes, is somewhat anticlimactic, and it is immediately obvious to the reader that he cannot be responsible for one of the deaths. I’m still not happy with the answer of who committed the final crime, nor any motive or means for doing so (maybe I was reading too fast). Nevertheless, the denouement fit my criteria of fitting hints which had been available, without being obvious to me.
Faye’s novel slips into 1840s New York with ease: the rickety buildings full of Irish immigrants, the news-sellers with their cigars and flash language. The writing is too rich at times, stuffed with simile and metaphor, but smooth; the plot is well-paced without racing. Faye strides the historical crime path with confidence and well; this is a most absorbing debut.