Intriguing, if somewhat unbelievable premise. I was very attracted to the "Secret History"-style elements of the book, the close and messy friendships...moreIntriguing, if somewhat unbelievable premise. I was very attracted to the "Secret History"-style elements of the book, the close and messy friendships amongst the very literate coterie of students that Cassie goes undercover with. Ultimately, the book held my attention until near the end, when the spell sort of burst with a sad pop. (less)
This first novel in the Timothy Wilde series (!) had many things going for it. It was a page-turner of a thing, a novel with an instantly beloved narr...moreThis first novel in the Timothy Wilde series (!) had many things going for it. It was a page-turner of a thing, a novel with an instantly beloved narrator (although all too deluded, for all his powers of "seeing," as the reader ultimately finds out), with an powder-keg of a setting (19th century New York City at the formation of its first real police force, aswirl in bitter, anything-goes political conflict and completely inundated with Irish immigrants flooding into its port as they desperately attempt to escape the death sentence of the Potato Famine back home on the Emerald Isle). Not to mention a devil of an antagonist and a heart-render of a mystery to solve: evidently, a mysterious maniac has slaughtered 19 "kinchin" (Irish children), who are found rent asunder in a shallow graves amidst the farms and cows pastures occupying the upper part of the island of Manhattan (where some, however, are already starting to erect massive mansions to their wealth).
Our story opens with Timothy Wilde, kind-hearted and keen-eyed bartender ("People tend to tell me things"), who has been saving up to pop the question to the girl he worships, one Mercy Underhill. But a terrible fire--and Timothy's resulting belief that he has lost everything that stands him in good stead--changes everyone's fate irrevocably. Pressed into a job as a "roundsman," aka a "copper star," on the new Democrat-sponsored police force by his brother, Valentine (who is older, more forceful, more charismatic--except to the reader, natch--coldly pragmatic as well as an out-and-out political animal), Timothy thrives. It turns out the job was made for him--not walking a beat, preventing crime, but rather (with his keen powers of observation and his way of fitting the puzzle pieces together and knowing what simply "isn't right") taking point as the one to unravel the great mystery. And a great mystery he is faced with, one that the author soundly and solidly sets up as certain to rip apart this city of embroiled and roiling racial prejudices. The tension is unabating.
Although I had figured out some elements of the conclusion by the 54% mark (yes, on the Kindle, with no page numbers), the end was more complex than I anticipated and very worthy of our "natural," Timothy. The pacing was perfect, and Lyndsay Faye's prose is not only clear when it needs to be (in action scenes, when it counts), but unfailingly tight and muscular and even quite transcendent at times. This was by no means a by-the-numbers exercise, and I would gladly count it amongst those elite few "genre" books that reach for and indeed deserve literary laurels.
I just have to add that I'm incredibly impressed by the obvious depth of research that went into this book, particularly the huge swaths of dialogue that were written in "flash" (a sort of street argot that the "unsavory elements" of NYC use and whose origins reach back most to Cockney Rhyming Slang and other counterparts in the Old World). It was all done very believably and naturally, not like a body of scholarship stuffed into a corset of a novel--which is something I've encountered in other books with a wealth of research and true historical detail poured into them ... and yet even with that detail, those books remain dull, lifeless things. Not so, The Gods of Gotham. I look forward to the next Timothy Wilde installment, especially now that he will no longer be quite the innocent we immediately learned to love in this first outing. Well done, Lyndsay Faye, well done!(less)
An enjoyable, albeit somewhat workaday, steampunk crime-solving romp through an alternate Victorian-era London. The city's overly industrialized skies...moreAn enjoyable, albeit somewhat workaday, steampunk crime-solving romp through an alternate Victorian-era London. The city's overly industrialized skies are choked with smog and replete with airships, meanwhile an eerie, thick fog has settled - seemingly permanently - over the less well-heeled streets, which provide the setting for a horrific string of "zombie" attacks and an unsettling, newly booming automaton industry. The crash of an airship serves as the initial mystery entrusted by the Crown (not to mention Victoria I herself, looking here as formidable as you'll ever see her) to the newly formed detective duo of Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes.
I kept thinking along the way that this must be the second book in the Newbury & Hobbes series, as whatever brought the two together happened before the events of the book, remained unexplained throughout, and yet never seemed enigmatic enough to be left a deliberate secret. We get a last tiny glimpse into Veronica Hobbes and her motivations right at the very end, but that doesn't quite right things. I would definitely read more books in the series - an easy read, with likable enough characters, an intriguing backdrop, tight plotting and well-crafted language - but I would hope for a bit more next time.
I have to say that the two back-to-back chapters in which our hero Newbury must single-handedly fight off first a clutch of nasty zombies, then a team of murderous automatons, were the highlight of the book for me. There was a lovely juxtaposition here of humans who have lost all their higher cognitive powers and proto-robots who demonstrate something approaching sentience ... and both are monsters. (less)
I'm writing this review after finally coming back to change my 4-star rating to 5-star because, well, Belinda Bauer's characterizations are spot-on an...moreI'm writing this review after finally coming back to change my 4-star rating to 5-star because, well, Belinda Bauer's characterizations are spot-on and sure-handed. I can't get the characters of Steven Peters and Arnold Avery out of my mind. And I can't quite grasp how the author was able to crawl so effectively into such vastly different psyches in the space of a single book, to inhabit these two characters completely and bring them unmistakably to life on the page.
Arnold Avery is a serial killer and sexual predator who is serving life in prison for his crimes against children. Steven Peters, the nephew of one of Avery's victims, is the 12-year-old boy determined to "fix" his broken family, something he thinks he can do by finding his uncle's body, hidden in the heath. To this end, he starts a correspondence with the serial killer. Both are determined to risk everything, and neither is exactly stupid. What happens next? A story that follows inexorably from character - the very best kind of novel.
(That's not really giving too much away, but is rather just the premise of the book. I don't usually like including synopses along with reviews, but in this case I decided to add a few more details than usual about because this book truly is a tour-de-force of believable characterization.)
Difficult subject matter and thus very hard-going at times, but this book has haunted me - and not just in bad ways.
The first book in Ellis Peters' Cadfael series was serviceable, if a bit rote as far as procedurals go. My expectations were obviously a bit too high...moreThe first book in Ellis Peters' Cadfael series was serviceable, if a bit rote as far as procedurals go. My expectations were obviously a bit too high - but I've no doubt Peters will improve as the series goes on - though I do have to say that Cadfael himself is everything the historical-sleuth lover could hope for. I look forward to the other books. As for this debut outing, I guess I'm just not overly fond in general of beautiful/wise maiden partners-in-crime-solving, and in specific of the lass with the flowing chestnut locks who was shoehorned into the role here, serving as the dull, unbelievable soundboard for Cadfael's wild and brilliant detective mind.
(It was a long wait for me, this first book in the acclaimed Cadfael series - in recent years mainly because these books STILL remain unavailable in Kindle form. God's teeth! It's unconscionable.)
On a side note, this was the first book I read so as to extend the last 6% of Anna Karenina. Because the end of Tolstoy novels should not be rushed through, just to finish. (I've read another book and a half since, and I'm still not done with AK!) This is where our author can finally breathe out - the action is past, the heroes and/or heroines are dead, and now he is free to expound on his bugbears of history and goodness and God. It's the long denouement, dammit, and our man in Yasnaya Polyana has some big ideas to get off his chest! I will give him his due. I'll just manage to cram in a little mystery and adventure on the high seas first (read: Aubrey-Maturin) ....(less)
I was happy to pick up a female detective novel (centered around Detective Irene Huss, former Swedish national judo champion, now 35 and working homic...moreI was happy to pick up a female detective novel (centered around Detective Irene Huss, former Swedish national judo champion, now 35 and working homicide in Stockholm while raising twin teenage girls with her chef husband) from a mystery writer who was also a woman. What seemed at first like the usual "Schwedenkrimi" (as the Germans call it) was actually something much meatier. The meat was not in the whodunit itself, however, and it also took its sweet time emerging. It was that Helene Tursten actually captured the incremental nature - the slow burn - of the procedural in a way I have not yet seen carried off in print. And, not least, she wrote a book whose characters engage the reader more emotionally than usually seems to be the case in this genre.
False leads were followed - check. Detective work involved a great deal of drudgery and took some time - check. Working homicide was a team effort, with each team member playing his pertinent role - check. No grand genius cut to the heart of the matter in a flash of inspiration, but rather a competent (and quirky) group of professionals steadily chipped away at the mystery until it was solved. Irene Huss, though the center of the book, was never the only detective to do all the key interviews or end up in all the most important places at the important times. All of which made the story all the more credible. Of course, she had to be a bit predominant, quick on the pickup - mainly (in this book, at least) due to her emotional intelligence, though a bit of coincidence was also involved in a few plot points (though never incredibly). But then again, would it even be possible to have a lead genre character not present at the book's climax or somehow entangled in the main thread? A novel focused on and in fact named for a single character would make no sense if that character were not somehow the emotional heart of the book.
But in addition to her fidelity to believable procedure, Tursten demonstrated other virtues. She was, for instance, able to keep Irene as the book's "human touch" while allowing other characters to carry emotional resonance as well. I am thinking mainly of the surprising, interesting and affecting Holocaust/skinhead subplot that involved one of her daughters and one of her colleagues. It was at this point that I realized Detective Irene Huss was no standard-formula procedural. The book transcends genres and easy labels a bit. I am looking forward to reading more Irene Huss novels.
My only complaint would be that the translation, which seemed to be aimed at the UK market, was neither fish nor fowl. Some passages were very difficult to follow and obviously needed to be rethought and/or restructured in English for comprehension. A few notes (or even better, textual additions) might have helped for things unfamiliar to a non-Swedish audience. I say all this as a professional translator. An English translation for the UK can't simply be spell-checked in US English, repackaged and shipped out across America. This book, for various reasons (Helene Tursten's minimalist style of dialogue being one of them: it obfuscated even more for those who don't speak Swedish), really needs and deserves its own, completely new English translation for the U.S. market.(less)