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Posts Tagged ‘1905 NYC’

IN THE SHADOW OF GOTHAM by Stefanie Pintoff: Book Review

Stefanie Pintoff’s debut novel, In the Shadow of Gotham, takes the reader back in time more than 100 years.  It’s 1905 in New York in a small town just north of Manhattan.  Simon Ziele, a former detective in New York City, has moved to Dobson to find a less violent life and to get away from the memory of the death of his fiancee who drowned when the ferry she was on sank and burned.  But his search for the quiet life is disturbed when the brutalized body of a young female graduate student, visiting her aunt, is found in his town.  And at the same time, the aunt’s housemaid disappeared, leaving all her belongings behind.

The following day, Professor Alistair Sinclair, noted criminologist at Columbia University, enters Ziele’s office stating that he may know who committed the murder.  He has a patient with violent fantasies, some of which he has already acted upon, but Sinclair is torn between believing Michael Fromley is guilty and needs to be arrested and his belief that he has been helping the young man to channel his violent tendencies via talking to the criminologist about them.  It’s the early days of profiling and psychology, and Sinclair desperately wants to continue his research, so he is at war with himself over the correct path to follow.

Ziele is less interested in Sinclair’s research than in finding the killer, whether or not that proves to be the psychologist’s patient.  Clues both point to Fromley and away from him, with Ziele believing more and more than the doctor is being less than candid.  Is Sinclair’s research more important to him than human life?  If he had gone to the police with his suspicions about Fromley’s involvement in an earlier attempted murder, would Sarah Wingate still be alive?

Ms. Pintoff has obviously done a great deal of research into the early 20th-century New York City scene. Horse-drawn carriages still ride over the cobblestones as Ziele takes his first ride in an automobile.  Grand Central Depot is in the process of becoming Grand Central Station, spewing dirt and soot all around the construction site.  The only Chinese restaurants in the city are in lower Manhattan, ostensibly because other neighborhoods fear the gambling and drug use that exist in Chinatown would spread if those ethnic eateries were allowed to go uptown.  “Silent” Charlie Murphy’s Tammany Hall has just stolen the election from reform mayor Seth Low.  The subway is only one year old.  And fingerprints are not yet accepted as evidence in the courtroom.

It’s a time of great changes, but human motivation hasn’t changed all that much since then.  There’s still rivalry among colleagues, corruption in the city, payoffs to keep prominent people out of the news, and violence against innocents.  But there also is a more scientific model of detection as evidenced by Ziele’s new position in Dobson.  He is open to new ideas, if not completely convinced by them, and in his search for Michael Fromley he has to balance the new scientific methods against the tried-and-true investigative techniques he knows.  Should he follow his experience down one investigative road or take the other road and listen to the psychology professor, firm in his belief in his ability to change the mind of a criminal? This Edgar-award winner for Best First Novel is a fascinating look back in time.

You can read more about Stefanie Pintoff at her web site.