Gods of Gotham- New York City – Lyndsay Faye

 

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Set in mid-19th century New York, this is the tale of Timothy Wilde, a ‘copper star’ in the newly formed police force.

He comes across a young girl in the streets dressed in  blood-soaked night clothes and his first real serious case starts. But this is a case which is going to the core of everything he doesn’t want to get involved in and the worse level of humour nature in a city that is changing beyond recognition.

 

 

Setting – 

 

Ahh think you know New York?

 

You haven’t seen this side of things the city that never sleeps. For it might not sleep but that doesn’t mean that the criminals have a rest or the worse of human kind come crawling out on the streets.

Five points 1827
Five points 1827

The two most iconic sites in the novel are the Five Points and the tombs – the tombs was the name for the prison and police station at the time and it was situated int he Five points area of the city – a notorious slum full of vice.

Who and want is valued in the city of this time? Talking of vagrant children –

 

Coral them like cattle, the pack them in a locked wagon rumbling up broadway to the House of Refuge. The urchins are lower in our society that the jersey cows

 

The river is the centre of it all  – life, the growing city and the arrival of the immigrants close to Nick’s bar –

East River today
East River today

The East River’s bank swarms with rickety foreign creature trying to shake off their sea legs, and Nick’s was on New Street very close to the water.

 

There is a fire at the start of the novel, an explosion and Manhattan is thrust into chaos and despair –

 

The Explosion was heard at Flushing and was supposed to be the shock of an earthquake. Cinders fell on Staten Island and for several miles over New Jersey… The New York Herald, July 1845

 

 

The author  paints a  very real and utterly convincing portrait of New York in 1845. It is grim, dark, dank and smelly. Extreme poverty and sickness are the bedfellows of many.

Neighbourhoods in New York change quicker than its weather. Spring Street where Val lives, is a mix of people in the usual every sense…

There are churches in Spring Street, eating houses smelling of pork chops with brown onions. It isn’t Broadway north of Bleeker, where the outrageously wealthy bon ton and their servants  peer down their noses at each other , but it isn’t Ward six either.

 

Ward six  – he enters via Mulberry Street –

 

“that row of godforsaken Catholic misery”

 

Mulberry Street
Mulberry Street

 

A city which has grown rapidly in size due to the influx of the irish immigrants. The Irish jostle at the bottom of the social scale alongside blacks and Catholics.

 

God save New York city from faraway blighted potatoes

 

Also of interest on this tour –

 

A very interesting angle of this book is the Flash vernacular  – the language of the rogues and criminals who walk the streets

It could be said that this was the first recorded language guide and many of our common day words and expressions have come from Flash words

Even the language paints a picture of the struggles of the time

 

Flash or flash patter is the curious dialect spoken by foister panel thieves, bruisers, dice burners, confidence men , street, rats, new hawkers, addicts and Valentine. I’ve heard tell it’s based on British Thieves’ Cant but damned if I’ve ever heard them compared.

 

This is a novel and a book trail right at the heart of the dirt, dank dark streets of the city at one of its most pivotal parts of its history.

 

Evocative is not the word – it places you right there amidst the chaos, with its cold hand on your shoulder guiding the way….

 

New York – the big apple may be rotten and the city have no chance of sleep in Ward Six but the new police force is fighting back

 

What an amazing point in time to pay a visit.

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