New York, 1846: The beautiful Mrs Lucy Adams hurtles through the gathering storm on a freezing St Valentine’s evening. She stumbles, terrified, into the headquarters of the newly formed NYPD, and copper star Timothy Wilde finds himself drawn into a thorny maze when she reports a horrifying robbery: her family, she says, has been stolen.
Timothy is hardened to the injustices of life in the unforgiving city he’s grown up in, but that doesn’t mean he accepts them. With immigrants flooding into the docks every day, communities are battling for their place in the new world, and many fall victim to the clash. But the worst danger on the streets are the blackbirders; slave-catchers whose inhuman trade is not merely legal – it’s law enforcement. New timothy, along with his wayward brother Valentine, is about to bring the fight right to the heart of the corrupt political machine he was hired to defend…
The first book in Lyndsay Faye’s tales of the Wilde brothers, The Gods of Gotham, ended up as number five on my best of 2012 books. I absolutely adored the book, for its plot, its atmosphere, and its characters. Faye blew me away with her meticulous research and her use of period-appropriate slang. Afterwards I asked for her other book Dust and Shadows for my birthday (and got it), but unfortunately, as with many of my non-review copy books these days, it’s still in residence on Mount-To-Be-Read. So when the ARC for the next Wilde book, Seven for a Secret arrived at Casa Librarian, you can imagine there was a little dance of joy. Faye takes us back to Tim and Valentine in another fascinating mystery and has Tim grapple with some very tough issues.
Central to the book’s plot are slavery and abolition. Tim not only has his eyes opened as regards the lot of African Americans, whether escaped slaves or free-born, in late 1840’s New York. I love how Faye approached the thorny issues of slavery, racism and the fact that often even people who don’t consider themselves racist can exhibit unconscious racism. It made Seven for a Secret feel highly relevant to today’s world, though the fact that in over 150 years we still haven’t managed to put all of these issues behind us is quite dispiriting—you’d think we’d be further along by now. Tim’s hopeless naiveté when it comes to the realities of life for the African Americans in his society and his continually forgetting the limitations placed on them, are both a sign of his humanitarian nature and an eye-opener on how people’s inattention and complacency can create a continuing state of unconscious and even institutional racism. Tim gets called out on his dense thoughtlessness and during the novel turns into a fierce abolitionist.
In addition to the focus on slavery and abolition, Faye deepens her world and her characters. We learn more about New York and its inhabitants and in addition to learning more about Tim and Valentine’s history and character, we also learn more about other, secondary characters, such as Tim’s landlady Mrs Boehm, little Bird Daly, Tim’s fellow copper star Jakob Piest, and his former co-worker, Julius Carpenter. I love that they all gain depth and their lines grow more distinct and recognisable. I loved the glimpses of Val’s unexpectedly kind nature, Bird’s keen-eyed insights, and Piest’s solid loyalty Faye grants us; she makes the reader care not just for Tim, but for all of them. But Tim is the heart of the novel. This is his story to tell and we follow his path through the dangerous events of the narrative. It’s his growth we witness up close, not just in his discovery of his abolitionist beliefs, but perhaps more importantly in his struggle to come to terms with the events of the last book and with letting go of the dream of Mercy Underhill, his childhood love.
Seven for a Secret contains a complex and intricate mystery that is tangled together tightly and has Tim, Val and Piest working hard to solve it. The twist was amazing; it took me not quite by surprise, but I only saw it coming at the last moment. There is only one thing that bugged me. Quite early on Tim starts hinting that his life is going to fall apart at some point in the book and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. And every time something happened that I thought was the shoe, he’d hint at something more. It created both a good and a bad tension; good in the sense that I was reading with bated breath wanting to find out what would happen next, but bad because I became impatient with the narrative, wanting it to get there already. However, about two-thirds through I was so drawn into the novel, I didn’t even notice reading any more, and I was just following the story.
With Seven for a Secret Lyndsay Faye gives Timothy Wilde a triumphant return to the streets of New York, and I adored every minute of it. The same caveat that was true for The Gods of Gotham, holds true here though: if you don’t like slang and period language, then Faye’s flash-filled dialogues won’t be to your taste. For me it was the confirmation that Faye is a wonderfully talented writer, who can create a detailed, atmospheric historical world without info-dumping all her research. I’m already looking forward to more Wilde novels, as the author’s confirmed there will be at least a third one and in the meantime, I guess I’ll really have to read Dust and Shadows soon, just to tide me over. Seven for a Secret is a happy marriage of historical and crime fiction and if either of those genres speak to you, Seven for a Secret is a must-read that stands well on its own, but will be a richer experience if you’ve read the first in the series.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.