The Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye returns us to the world of 1840’s New York City, Five Points, the birth of the Copper Stars and the graft and corruption of Tammany Hall. Young Copper Star Timothy Wilde must investigate the arson of a decrepit tenement building and the issuing death of two women but what he finds as he digs deeper is worse than the burning death of these two young women; far worse.
No one hates fires more than Timothy Wilde. His parents consumed in a blaze. His own face horribly disfigured. So when a corrupt Tammany Hall Politician, Robert Symmes, is threatened by a disgruntled former employee and activist; Timothy is charged with catching the would be arsonist. What he finds out is that the vendetta goes much deeper than the burning down of a building. It has to do with the deplorable conditions the seamstress and her co-workers struggle under and the use of force to keep them in line. To make matters worse, Tim’s brother Valentine, himself deeply political, decides to campaign against Symmes. As Tim digs he finds that Symmes is suspected of crimes much darker than he could imagine. To come to the truth, Tim must align himself with an enemy he cannot trust, the Madame Silkie Marsh.
“…A corner of her mouth curved ironically. ‘Do you know, I readily admit that you are a man who can string words together, Mr. Wilde. Though it is likely the only quality you possess other than a profound knack for barging in where you are unwanted.’
‘Just why are you palavering with me, then?’
‘Because I want you to barge in where you are wanted for once in your petty little life,’she hissed, showing the bile beneath the elegance.
‘You’re trying to convince me to protect you,’ I realized.
‘No, I know you’ll protect me’ She gestured at the brothel we were fast approaching, its sedate exterior belying the perverse events that had occurred within. ‘You won’t want to protect me, as uncomfortable as that fact might be when placed alongside your tiresome notions of chivalry. But protect me you will, nevertheless.’
‘Because you’ll be protecting fourteen other girls, Mr. Wilde…”
Wilde must content with enemies too powerful for him alone and also with the return of the woman he loves but can never attain, Mercy Underhill. He must decide what is fact and what is fantasy as the next arson is set to happen.
Lyndsay Faye creates a New York, in a window of time that is as rife with corruption and grit and lawlessness that it would make Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York look pale in comparison. In Timothy Wilde she has created a flawed hero who’s sense of right and wrong is tested by the city, the time, and most of all by those he loves.
The Fatal Flame is book three of the Timothy Wilde mysteries and ties together so many of the loose ends that had been left dangling in the first two tales. It is a finale but one hopes that it is not the end of Timothy Wilde and Faye brings us back to this city, this time and this copper star for at least one more run.
Faye also, as she has in her two prior mysteries staring Timothy Wilde, addresses a horrible injustice suffered by the people of this time. The seamstresses who suffered under the yoke of their master’s oppression. The rapes suffered by women that too often would go unpunished. Immigrants who were turned into prostitutes by the men and women who they though would befriend them and the machinations of a city government meant to line its own pockets far above and before caring for its people. At a time when the nation was beginning to be torn apart with the upcoming Civil War.
Faye is a terrific writer who has chiseled out a time and mystery series that is as yet unrivaled by others in this field.
A terrific read!