This historical backdrop is bound by a story of a young man, his unrequited love for a woman, and his estranged, co-dependent relationship with his brother (his only living relative).
After he loses his job and his home to the Great Explosion of 1845 that started at 38 Broad Street and swept through building after building all the way to Bowling Green, this young man, Timothy Wilde, is recruited and unenthusiastically joins the new “police force.” But he finds he has a knack for investigation, and so, the story begins.
The city is grisly, the prejudice against the Irish, the Pope, and Catholicism as a whole is ignorant and vicious, and the murders are gruesome. It’s a portrait of a city emerging into its identity, reluctantly evolving and progressing almost in spite of itself.
The ending is a bit too tidy, but I did marvel at author Lindsay Faye’s ability to re-create—and immerse the reader in—a world long since deceased, providing insight into how one of the greatest cities in the world got its start.