Historical New York Comes Alive in “Seven for a Secret”

17465443Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye
G.P. Putnam’s Sons: September 17, 2013 (Historical Fiction; Historical Mystery)

I’d go there again!
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“There’s been a robbery.”
“What’s been stolen?” I asked.
“My family,” she answered me (p. 6).

Seven for a Secret is the second in Faye’s Timothy Wilde Mysteries trilogy. In Gods of Gotham Tim Wilde reluctantly took up the profession of copper star for the newly formed police force of New York. Flush with the success of events from the first book, young Tim is admittedly confident about his skills as a copper when Seven for a Secret begins. Six months have passed since the previous book, and Tim has settled into his job and has experienced success after success for his particular talent of solving crimes after they’ve happened. However, when a young black woman, Lucy Adams, burst into his office reporting that her family has been stolen, Tim’s convictions of what’s right will be sorely tested.

Seven for a Secret, like it’s predecessor, doesn’t shy away from the gritty and harsh realities of those who were looked down upon in 1846. In fact, Faye’s novels seem to embrace the inequalities that were rampant at this time in history, providing excerpts of historical documents at the beginning of each chapter. Unlike The Gods of Gotham, this novel focuses on the state of slavery in the U.S. rather than the influx of Irish immigrants on the shore of New York. While Tim isn’t unaware of the reality of the free black men in his city, Tim’s investigation into the kidnapping of Lucy Adams’ family brings a much deeper realization of far reaching implications, both political and personal, of the slave trade and it’s abolitionist counterpart.

The mystery element and the historical details in Seven for a Secret are no less heartbreaking than those that were revealed in The Gods of Gotham. The fact that Faye peppers her narration with excerpts from historical documents lends credence to reality in her fictional tale. The blatant disregard for specific human beings isn’t new information, but Faye’s tale puts the historical realities in context. While Faye’s character’s are all well drawn, the historical detail is no less interesting than the characters that are living through it. I really enjoy historical mysteries, and Faye’s Seven for a Secret puts an emphasis on the “history” part of the genre, making this a compelling and less obviously formulaic mystery.

What I also continue to enjoy about the series is Tim’s interactions with his complicated brother, Val. Valentine Wilde is a contrast to Tim in every way: he’s addicted to morphine, he’s more than happy to sleep around, and he’s no stranger to the back room dealings within the political sphere. However, the bond that these two brothers share is unique and endearing. One moment Val’s acting the hero and the next he’s saying something so completely offensive, but he always comes through when he’s brother is in need. I like the contrast between Val and Tim; it helps to balance out the, at times, idealistic and naïve attitudes that Tim holds.

Like The Gods of Gotham, I also listened to Seven for a Secret on audiobook. Once again the narration by Steven Boyer was exceptional. The accents and change in tone for various characters was spot on. Boyer does an exceptional job of conveying the atmosphere that Faye has so painstakingly evoked and I think the narration will appeal to the discerning audiobook listener.

Seven for a Secret is a fabulous addition to the trilogy and it’s a trilogy that I’d recommend to those who like their mysteries crafted intricately and questioning the notion of justice. I think this one will also appeal to those who are interested in atmospheric and detailed historical fiction. The characters and the landscape that they inhabit are complicated and fraught with harsh inequalities; it’s brutal but compelling reading.

Similar Reads

If you were interested in the historical origins of New York, Jean Zimmerman’s The Orphan Master would be a good follow up read. While set in 1663 New Amsterdam (present day Manhattan), it offers a look at the antecedents to the city that Faye’s characters live in. While The Orphan Master is not as gritty as Seven for a Secret, I think it will appeal to fans of the historical component of Faye’s novel.

The Orphan Master

For another earlier look at New York, Donna Thorland’s Mistress Firebrand might be a interesting read. Thorland’s novel is set in New York during the American Revolution and explores the less overt skirmishes for independence from Britain. Fair warning: there’s more emphasis on romance in Mistress Firebrand, so it’s not a read that I’d recommend to everyone. See my full review here.

Mistress Firebrand (Renegades of the American Revolution)

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