I found the first sentence of this book somewhat lumpy; “The scream that pierced the dull yellow November sky was preternaturally high-pitched.” I was predisposed not to enjoy the read.
In the Shadow of Gotham is a simple murder mystery set in the early 1900’s. Hannah, the fiancée of New York Detective Simon Ziele was drowned in the General Slocum ferry disaster. Ziele has transferred to the quiet town of Dobson, north of New York hoping to put his recent past behind him. Sarah Wingate, a young woman staying with her aunt, is brutally murdered in her bedroom on a winter afternoon. This is the first murder in Dodson for years and the type of crime Ziele had hoped to leave behind. But now he needs to investigate the deceits, lies and motives that have led to Sarah’s death. The investigation takes Ziele back to New York. He is contacted by Columbia University’s noted criminologist; Alistair Sinclair, who thinks that the murderer could be one of his patients, one Michael Fromley.
Simon Ziele and Alistair Sinclair must find the murderer before he strikes again. There are shades of early C.S.I with the use of forensic evidence and descriptions of early criminology were fascinating. This was a time when scientists were trying to understand criminal behaviour.
Ziele is the first person narrator, he is a tedious character, flat and lifeless. The only time he comes to life is when angry and frustrated. The story is held back by extraneous detail. Ziele describes everything, even the perfectly obvious, as in the Chinese food scene, which, as with a lot of the exposition is something of a data dump.
Alistair Sinclair is a professor at Columbia University. He is a wealthy eccentric and criminology is his hobby. He makes an affective contrast to the rather limp rag, Ziele. They do most of the detecting together.
The plot is based on a coincidence. The narrator, Ziele and the reader know early on that the investigation is going in the wrong direction. It takes a long, long, long, time for them to ‘catch up.’
The end-of-chapter habit of foreshadowing happened too many times. It was trite i.e. “And the truth, when we learned it, would be even worse than I imagined.” “Would draw upon our every power of deduction to unravel.” “We should pray we are not mistaken – and not too late.”
There is a good mystery at the heart of the story, but the ‘voice’ of the novel takes away any tension or suspense and there is no real sense of place. If you like ponderous eighteenth century writing you will probably like this book