Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Outstanding Epic Black History Novel By Lyndsay Faye Tells of Free Blacks Kidnapped Into Slavery, New NYC Police's Beginning, Irish Potato Famine

"Men may write fictions portraying lowly life as it is, or as if is not--may expatiate with owlish gravity upon the bliss of ignorance--discourse flippantly from armchairs of the pleasures of slave life; but let them toil with him in the field--sleep with him in the cabin--feed with him on husks; let them behold him scourged, hunted, trampled on, and they will come back with another story in their mouths.
--Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave, 1853

Seven For A Secret
To be Published in September; quotes from ARC
By Lyndsay Faye

"New Yorkers enjoy being told what to do about as much as we
enjoy a plummeting stock market. And thanks to the Fugitive
Slave Act of 1793, we're required to hand runaways over to
Southern slave agents as if we're returning a spooked
thoroughbred. In 1840, a shockingly moral Albany law granted
alleged fugitives in New York State the right to a jury trial.
And in 1842, Prigg v. Pennsylvania nationally revoked the
right of any colored fugitive to a jury trial. Thus, in 1846, up is
down and straight is crooked and black is blacker than black
has ever been. Right and wrong are left suffocating, beached
fish in a barren legislative no-man's-land.
"It's all so illogical that every man does pretty much as he
pleases. And that was my plan, as Lucy Adams rapped carefully
in three sets of two upon her lightly snow-banked front door
before turning her key in the lock.
"To do as I pleased..."
"Three men rose to greet us. All of them black and one of
them known to me.
"You've found him, then," my friend Julius Carpenter said to
Mrs. Adams, shaking my hand. "How are you, Timothy?"
..."If it was a shock to see him, at least it was a
pleasurable one..."

I am constantly amazed but, more, chagrined when I read the atrocities of whites onto blacks...especially when well documented, yet unknown, by the majority of Americans! Sure, this novel takes place exactly 100 years before the year I was born, but somehow the reality of the depths of cruelty never filters into "common knowledge..."

Like it is news form everywhere! While I must agree with Solomon Northup, in his quote above, I do think that fiction writers today are more accurately portraying what happened historically. Kudos to the author for her series on "heroes..." which features one of the first "copper star" detectives under the newly appointed Chief of Police George Washington Matsell in New York City...

I need to mention also the beautiful literary writing of the author, which includes quotes such as above, at the beginning of each chapter. Additionally, insofar as possible, she has used actual names which certainly helps to allow the novel to be placed, in my opinion, in the Black History libraries across America, even while it stands as an outstanding, extraordinary mystery novel which will captivate you from the beginning to the "Historical Afterword" included at the end. There also is a small glossary at the beginning of "Flash Terminology" from The Secret Language of Crime by G. W. Matsell, 1859, which is used throughout the book, showing the slang used at that time.
"The tin cup fell to the floor with a light clatter
as she covered her face with her hands. Her
shoulders trembled in concert with her breathing,
ripples over the crests of shallow waves.
"Have you searched--" Mr. Piest began.
"I need you, Mr. Wilde," she said, looking up at
me fiercely.
"My showing at comprehension was already landing
at about nil, but I'll admit that staggered me.
"Why do you say so?"
"I know who you are and I know what you've done.
You must help me."
"My lips parted to say Of course I will. But they
were a fair distance from my cartwheeling brain.
I hadn't the slightest idea of what she was talking
"They steal people." Tears filled her eyes, a
tincture of misery and rage..."
"Timothy Wilde, copper star badge number 107  and defender of whomever I damn well pleased," was a good cop. Some of the characters are, I am sure, from the first in the series, which I want to read, since Timothy has undoubtedly been changed somewhat by the past. He is stubborn, persistent, almost obsessive-compulsive, if that diagnosis had been known back then. But he makes promises that he sometimes can't keep...

Like it was with Lucy Adams...

He had told her, "Just tell it to me like a story, and I'll fix this..."

She had come to report a theft...of her family... Specifically, her sister and son had been taken. She knew who had taken them, of course, since she had also been taken in her past!

Timothy is also "that rarest of deviants" in the City "who feels about politics the way most men feel about scraping pig dung off their boots. I'm going to allow readers the pleasure (or pain) of discovering how politics plays in this story...Let me just say that it was not any different than it is now, I am sure...

Timothy had not even realized that Lucy was black--what he did know was that she was beautiful. But her race would not have mattered anyway--like I said he's a good cop. And he's also a good man... That's important because when you meet his brother, who is a captain in the police, you'll immediately worry whether Timothy is going to be able to be effective with Valentine as his brother! I loved the interplay between the two, especially regarding politics since Val was completely involved with his party and placed its needs in decisions he made related to his job. Of course, especially at that time, they had to, since the formal police structure had just been formed and could just as easily be eliminated--by politicians...
At this same time, well over 1M Irish were coming to America due to the potato famine. Two things affected this story: The criminally minded from Ireland came too... The politicians were quick to realize that these were potential voters and they began a systematic financial support for them--not a bad thing for the Irish, but...

I found that a NY Madam made an interesting character, especially since she was involved politically as both a contributor and a power player. Needless to say, I hated her as a woman...LOL
"No grand inquest has for years
had the courage or virtue to find
a bill of indictment against a
kidnapper, however plain and
undeniable the proof of his guilt.
--James G. Birney, 1842

Timothy and Val had found the sister and son who had been taken by slave agents and given them refuge only to find Lucy dead in Val's bed and her sister and son gone again. The complexity of this whodunit is marvelously explored as Timothy takes each event and molds it into possible scenarios. He becomes involved with the Committee for Vigilance, which included a long-time friend with whom Timothy worked for many years. They were most involved in the prevention of Free Black citizens from being kidnapped and accused of being runaway slaves! But some were also involved with activities of the Underground Railroad.

The complexity of this novel is what keeps readers' attention! Just when we mystery lovers are on the scent, we are confronted with an entirely new political or criminal issue with the normal police actions taking place. Timothy is so engrossed in fulfilling his promise that he disrupts court proceedings, is involved with the murder of another Copper Star, as well as being forced to attend a political function, dressed up in clothes bought for the occasion by his brother...and then being kidnapped himself and taken, beaten, and sentenced to death by a small group of politicos!

Only a female author, it seems to me, would take the time to include romantic (not sexual issues which are there!) involvement by Timothy and to close out the novel bringing us lightly back into a happier frame of mind from the depths of anguish this novel generates! Thank you, Lyndsay Faye, for allowing us to become so intimately involved with Timothy...he was, indeed, a good man...

History lovers - A must read for you! Mystery lovers--the same! People who care--you got it, the Same!


Lyndsay Faye is the author of critically acclaimed Dust and Shadow and The Gods of Gotham, which was nominated by the Edgars for Best Novel—if you were to ask her, she would say she writes hero stories. Faye, a true New Yorker in the sense she was born elsewhere, lives in Manhattan with her husband, Gabriel.

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