Available now, from the author of Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr John H Watson, Lyndsay Faye, becomes the latest Indigo Recommends title: The Gods of Gotham.
Lyndsay has written a masterpiece of historical fiction that outlines the rise of New York City as a great metropolis, and the origins of its police department - woven seamlessly into a fascinating mystery.
Lyndsay has been kind enough to share this blog about how her novel came to be. For a sample, a teaser from Chapter One can be found in an earlier instalment of the Indigo Blog, here.
There’s something inherently magical about a beginning. An “in the beginning was et cetera” moment, be it an apple cake, a designer dress, or the birth of a nation. Anything could happen.
At its inception, the real possibility of potential doom plagued the origins of the New York City Police Department, now one of the most famous (and infamous) law enforcement bodies in the world. The Gods of Gotham tells that story to the best of my ability, and writing the novel forever altered my own perception of New York along the way.
I like beginnings very much indeed. They’re sexy in their uncertainty. So I set out with the lofty idea of day one, cop one, of the NYPD. But at once hit a snag: I knew nothing whatsoever about the subject.
Fortunately, I knew a little something about character arcs (as a former actress), and a little something about language (as an unrepentant geek), and a little something about hero stories (as a rabid Sherlock Holmes enthusiast). And when I commenced researching the topic, I discovered a wealth of fabulously dramatic history that could never have been invented, only survived. Ultimately unsurprising, really, because this continent has endured myriad catastrophes and kept on swinging, but still… When they say “truth is stranger than fiction,” that’s because fiction presumably has to make sense.
There was never a question of when I would set the story for The Gods of Gotham —whenever the NYPD was born, that was the star at which I’d aimed my telescope. Imagine my shock when I discovered that three game-changing events took place in that year. First, of course, the New York “copper stars” were founded, that ill-trained and politically partisan band of brothers whose presence now graces television screens worldwide. Second, a devastating fire destroyed three hundred buildings in downtown Manhattan, leaving thirty people dead, the financial district gutted, and near to six million dollars vanished in smoke. And third, the potato blight struck Ireland, igniting the tragedy of the Great Famine and spurring thousands upon thousands of Irish Catholics to flood New York City, often on the dime of their former landlords.
If there exists a more heady cocktail of origin story, tragedy, and socio-political turmoil, I have yet to discover it. And when I do, by god, I’ll write a book about that too.
Further research revealed more curiosities. “Flash,” a criminal argot based on British “thieves’ cant” and yet rife with German and Dutch and every other tongue common to the States, was so widely spoken by the underclasses that the first Chief of Police took it upon himself to write a dictionary. Bands of homeless children called “kinchin” roamed the streets unremarked, surviving as best they could by hawking newspapers or hot corn or matches, or far worse. And minus even the most rudimentary of social safety nets (almshouses were dire and religious organizations preferred their charity recipients nicely scrubbed), immigrants could either bloom or starve in the often hostile new shores they’d risked their all to arrive upon.
But the firsthand accounts of New York City life were nevertheless far from gloomy. Throughout this dark drama always ran a hearty pioneers’ sense of humor. Those who spoke flash may have been destitute, but they sarcastically called death “taking an earth nap” or “being put to bed with a shovel.” The motherless urchins who screamed daily from street corners selling papers spent their coin on brandy, cigars, and pork chops at the newly popular steakhouses. Satires abounded, and the mix of mud, trash, and sewage trampled continually underfoot was called by the politically disillusioned “Corporation Pudding.”
Survival was difficult and mortality lurked around every corner, but democracy demanded that there be diversions for the poor as well as the rich. Prim morals were for the upper classes, people with lace curtains and nicely cut tea sandwiches—people who’d been born rustic Americans, and were mimicking the fashions they imagined proper. For the low-lifes remained the gambling hells, the bowling alleys, the fraternity of firemen and the honor among thieves. Every day, someone died. But every day, someone made it out. And every day, more gutter slang infiltrated Fifth Avenue, as young gadabouts who’d been out slumming went home to their families with talk of their “pals” and their “sprees.”
From the moment I was introduced to this world, I never wanted to leave it. In part, I think that’s because we face such a complicated set of challenges today, and at times taking refuge in another era is the only activity that makes sense. But in another way, enormous value can be taken from picking up a page in history and learning how close to the edge they skated, how low and weary and ferociously determined they felt. The NYPD was nearly smashed any number of times in its infancy, but it ultimately thrived, as did the Irish Catholics. Men and women who allow their dreams to be limitless, the creators of all variety of new beginnings, often experience grave setbacks. Failures. But where fire once razed lower Manhattan in 1845, new enterprises at once sprang into life. As a resident of post-9/11 New York, watching as the new Trade Center soars higher into the sky day by day, I felt very comforted in knowing that we always pick ourselves up and keep going. I felt, by an enormous order of magnitude, less alone.
Beginnings don’t always lead to successes. On the contrary. But the possibility of triumph they represent makes them gleam nonetheless, and the NYPD is now arguably the most iconic law enforcement body on the planet. That, I thought, was a story worth telling from the very beginning. A story of hope springing from ashes, of copper stars forged in dark fires.
Still curious? Interested readers can find much more on The Gods of Gotham on the Indigo Blog.
An interview between Michael Connelly and Lyndsay can be found here.
Our thanks to our friends at Penguin Canada for their assistance in facilitating this blog, and to Lyndsay Faye herself for sharing it. This is a novel we’re proud to stand behind, and we wish them all success with it.