Amy Myers is known for her short stories and historical novels featuring Victorian chef Auguste Didier and chimney sweep Tom Wasp. Her contemporary series features classic car detective Jack Colby, and she is currently working on a new 1920s mystery series featuring Nell Drury, chef at Kent’s Wychbourne Court.
The Fatal Flame is the third in Lyndsay Faye’s masterly trilogy of crime novels set in 1840s New York. I hadn’t read the earlier two novels starring ‘copper star’ Timothy Wilde of the then recently formed New York police force but that did not affect my admiration for The Fatal Flame.
Related in the first person by Timothy Wilde, this case sends Timothy – who has good reason to fear fire – on the track of an arsonist who is threatening Wilde’s enemy, the corrupt and much feared alderman Robert Symmes. Fire has dogged Timothy’s life and he is determined to stop the arsonist be it man or woman, rich or starving – even if it means contact with his brother, the formidable Valentine, with whom he has a love-hate relationship. The case brings him into contact too with his childhood sweetheart Mercy Underhill.
These are but four of the many characters who people this remarkable novel. Set in the underworld of New York, and using Flash, the underworld argot, the author’s research is awe-inspiring. It’s her particular writing gift that although that makes the pace and plot slow in gathering strength, it places the reader so deftly into the world it evokes that one is fighting every step of the way side by side with Timothy. Her canvas is enormous – from brothels and female slavery to women’s rights and political corruption – and her use of language is mesmerising. This is a book to savour and long remember