Friday, November 29, 2013

REVIEW: Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye

Seven for a SecretSeven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Format: Audio from Library
Narrated By: Steven Boyer
Original Publication Year: 2013
Genre(s): Mystery, Historical
Series: Timothy Wilde Series #2
Awards: NA

I accidently broke my solemn rule with this book and jumped into a sequel before reading book one. It took me two or three chapters of frustration before I realized what I had done - I kept getting irritated at how I felt dropped into a world I should already know details about. Because of this I recommend that book one be read first! I did continue reading, however, despite my anal retentive self nagging to stop. I was interested enough, if slightly confused, to keep listening, which I think says something positive about the book’s appeal.

Timothy Wilde is a young (late 20s) “copper star” (aka policemen) in New York in the middle of the 19th century. He is one of a small group of policemen that are prized for their brains and specialize in solving the most serious crimes. He is assigned to investigate a stolen painting and after success solving that crime is thrust into a convoluted case involving free blacks, slave catchers, missing family members and corrupt politics. New York and America is explored in all its squalid mid-1800s glory which at times is really interesting and at times gets a little tiresome.

Faye did a great job creating an authentic-seeming historic New York and her plot is complex and interesting. There are many references to characters and relationship histories from book one, so, again, this would likely have been a richer reading experience if I’d read the books in order.

While my overall impression of the book is good, I do for some reason find it easier to articulate some things that didn’t work for me. The main obstacle I ran into while reading is that I felt preached at – Timothy is very earnest, self-righteous and filled with indignation. The story touches on many of the social issues of the day: slavery, exploitation of children in a myriad of horrible ways, corrupt politicians, poverty. I’m 100% on board with the fact that these are all horrible, horrendous atrocities and didn’t really feel like I needed to be convinced that they are bad. Faye lingers and sometimes seemed to detour so that she could really focus in on these issues and frankly it got tiresome and detracted from the story.

It also, eventually, led me to find Timothy tiresome because he is the reader’s lens and he is pretty much in a constant state of righteous indignation. I found his brother Valentine more intriguing as he is more practical, worldlier, more brilliant, a little corrupt and violent but in his way doing more good than his very na├»ve brother. I think I would have enjoyed seeing the book focus on Valentine more but I do love a complicated hero so maybe it is just me.

The final verdict is that despite some lags in enjoyment and my stupidity in inadvertently skipping book one, I overall liked the book. I like the time period and particularly crime stories set in that period so I was probably pretty inclined to like it. Faye is a good writer at the sentence level which provides a further boost. I was pretty fascinated with the details about the political system at the time. I do think, however, that I like Stephanie Pintoff’s series that starts with In the Shadow of Gotham better though it is set a bit later (turn of the century, I think). Pintoff’s series has less complex storylines but is more focused and narratively driven with strong characters and interesting relationships. So if you liked this book I would check her series out as well.

Finally, the reader for the audio book worked well as the narrator Timothy Wilde and distinguishes the other characters well and subtly.


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