New York 1848 – The Fatal Flame – Lyndsay Faye

Fatal flame

Why a booktrail?

1848 – New York has always been the city that never sleeps but in 1848 it didn’t even have a chance – the violence and the fires kept everyone awake…

Story

New York in 1848 was a dangerous dark place to be. The notorious Five Points a pivotal part of 1840’s New York and the birth of its Copper Stars are once again the scene of dramatic intrigue and this time…arson

Copper star Timothy Wilde hates fire more than most since his family was killed in one and gave him a permanent scar. But this latest case sees him looking right into the heart of the flame – fires re being started ion the streets of the city for some kind of revenge and Wilde has to find out why quickly before the entire city goes up in flames.

It’s not going to be easy though – there is a lot to stoke the fires – stories of Revenge, murder and blackmail as well as past events from the first two novels in the series.

The Fatal Flame is a hotbed of explosive situations..

Place and setting

Five Points/The Tombs The Tombs - The Five points was the area around the areas of Civic Center and Chinatown. It occupied a full block, surrounded by Centre, Franklin Street, Elm -today's Lafayette, and Leonard Street. Today the Manhattan Detention center is there in White Street. Pell Street The site of the first fire The orphanage The orphanage - The Catholic Orphan Asylum is at the corner of Prince and Mott Street. The famous Bowery is said to be two blocks east. Nassau St and nearby Cedar Street Nassau St and nearby Cedar Street made up the area known as the Burnt District. This was where the textile manfacturing was centered. Cedar Street is about two blocks to the right.  Elizabeth Street The home of Detective Timothy Wilde  Thomas Street The home of Sally Woods Queen Mabs The brothel was located on the corner of Rose Street and Frankfort
Five Points/The Tombs
The Tombs – The Five points was the area around the areas of Civic Center and Chinatown. It occupied a full block, surrounded by Centre, Franklin Street, Elm -today’s Lafayette, and Leonard Street. Today the Manhattan Detention center is there in White Street.
Pell Street
The site of the first fire
The orphanage
The orphanage – The Catholic Orphan Asylum is at the corner of Prince and Mott Street. The famous Bowery is said to be two blocks east.
Nassau St and nearby Cedar Street Nassau St and nearby Cedar Street made up the area known as the Burnt District. This was where the textile manfacturing was centered. Cedar Street is about two blocks to the right.
Elizabeth Street The home of Detective Timothy Wilde
Thomas Street The home of Sally Woods Queen Mabs The brothel was located on the corner of Rose Street and Frankfort

This the city that never sleeps – just as well as it certainly needs to keep at least one eye open as an arsonist seems to be on a rampage around the city torching it at will.

New York policing and politics

The peculiarities of mid-19th century NYC politics and the formation of the New York police force are recreated vividly as are the workings of Tammany Hall – the Democratic political machine that dominated NYC politics at the time. Those fighting for high office did just that – fight – and the ‘war’ between them and the people, the police, was dirty, tiring and a battle of wills. Piest for example is described –

“as honest as the frayed cuffs on his frock coat”

Timothy Wilde however is the man to bring the copper stars, the Five Points, the Tomb and the struggle of police officers in such a desperate city to life. With the use of the Flash language, that used by criminals at the time and documented by the chief of police George Matsell, this is a history lesson which fully submerges you in time and place.

New York city 1848..

Newspaper snippets, political documents, and words from various sources open up each chapter giving an insight into the mood, opinion and politics of the time. In the following chapter a window opens up on women’s rights, the subject of mental health and the frightening truth that someone is lighting fires across the city and many people are dying whilst others are in danger.

This is a city of character  and it’s a character in its own right – the neighbourhoods, the brothels (mab houses) and manufacturing factories are full of noise, sweat, toil and dirt. Pigs wander the streets munching on anything they find. The tenements and the living conditions of people are symbols of various degrees of poverty -women especially have a raw deal and are constantly under the control of men, wild characters with no regard for their health and safety. Working conditions, if that’s what they can be described as, are not worth the paper they are written on.

Women in the city

Women worked as sewing girls in the Bowery or on the streets and the men who run these places are nasty characters with no morals. Life is one long, harsh struggle for almost everyone and particularly the case  if you’re female, Irish or coloured. Working conditions for seamstresses  – those enough lucky enough not to be forced into prostitution – were inexistant and conditions unregulated,wages minimal.

Review

This is exactly the kind of book to read if you love to fully immerse yourself into time and place. The level of research that Lyndsay Faye must have done to get such small details as authentic as they come is staggering and despite not knowing much at all about New York history before reading all three of her novels, I feel as if I’ve learned more via her books than any history lesson could have taught me. This books is akin to no ordinarily history lesson however – oh no – but rather like stepping into the past and wandering around the streets, with the odeur of dirt in your nose, the muck on your feet and the fear on the back of your neck.

How fascinating are the early years of the Copper Stars, the growth of the police force, the birth of Flash, the figure of George Matsell. Oh and my new friends –  Jim, Mercy, Symmes, Piest, Sally, Dunly, Mrs. Grimshaw, Tim and Val. Please don’t let this be the last in the series, I’m going to miss you all too much.

This needs to be on the big screen right now.

Susan Booktrailer

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