It is 1845. New York City forms its first police force. The great potato famine hits Ireland. These two seemingly disparate events will change New York City. Forever.
Timothy Wilde tends bar near the Exchange, fantasizing about the day he has enough money to win the girl of his dreams. But when his dreams literally incinerate in a fire devastating downtown Manhattan, he finds himself disfigured, unemployed, and homeless. His older brother obtains Timothy a job in the newly minted NYPD, but he is highly skeptical of this new "police force". And he is less than thrilled that his new beat is the notoriously down-and-out Sixth Ward - at the border of Five Points, the world's most notorious slum.
One night, while making his rounds, Wilde literally runs into a little slip of a girl - a girl not more than 10 years old - dashing through the dark in her nightshift... covered head to toe in blood.
Timothy knows he should take the girl to the House of Refuge, yet he can't bring himself to abandon her. Instead, he takes her home, where she spins wild stories, claiming that dozens of bodies are buried in the forest north of 23rd Street. Timothy isn't sure whether to believe her or not, but, as the truth unfolds, the reluctant copper star finds himself engaged in a battle for justice that nearly costs him his brother, his romantic obsession, and his own life.
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A wonderful book
Atmospheric, intelligent and engaging
This story is beautifully written, replete with descriptions of New York in the mid-1840s - what it looked like (sometimes gorgeous, more often dark and dreary), what it smelled like (smoky and rancid), and what it sounded like. Several themes run through a story that is about murder and mayhem, science and religion as well as the plight of women and children in an uncivilized place birthing itself from the depths of poverty and squalor. There are characters I wanted to know better - and hope that Lyndsay Faye will tell us more about Timothy Wilde, Bird Daley and the kinchins in the future. A most delightful element in this book is the way in which Timothy, who has been given a job as a ``copper star`` in the newly formed police force, uses his talent as a listener and observer of people and as an artist to become a detective - truly a problem solver using all of his gifts to understand `who did it`.
My favourite scene was the one in which Timothy, beaten and discouraged, returns to his room above the bakery. Once home, he takes out his onionskin and begins to write down phrases that he has heard over the course of his inquiries, drawing pictures of what he has seen and, finally, piecing together an entire picture to make sense of the `crimes``. I also loved the scene where Timothy and his brother, Valentine, come to know a very dark truth about their family. The scene bristles with horror and is infused with compassion.
While Timothy Wilde will stay in my mind for a long time, it is Mercy who I will remember. In her, the author has created a heroine tragically ahead of her time, deeply flawed, selfless and selfish, and for whom this female reader, while shuddering, can only feel compassion.
above average historical fiction