Wednesday, September 09, 2009
In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff
Protagonist: Det. Simon Ziele
Setting: New York City and upstate Dobson, 1905
In the Shadow of Gotham won St. Martin’s Minotaur First Crime Novel Award last year, and comes with great promise: an atmospheric novel set just after the turn of the century, when psychology was beginning to delve into the criminal mind.
Amid all this, we meet Ziele, who has transferred to a small upstate town from New York City after his fiancée dies in the General Slocum ferry disaster. But this quiet existence is not to last. A young woman is brutally murdered and the crime sends him back to the city to investigate. There, a noted Columbia University criminologist, Alistair Sinclair, believes that a patient he has been treating, Michael Fromley, is behind the murder. But Fromley has disappeared. So Ziele, with the help of Sinclair and those in his office, sets out to find Fromley, who always seems to be two steps ahead of them – as if he had inside knowledge of the investigation itself.
The book gets high marks for atmosphere and historical detail – I felt I was right there with the characters. And the characters are very engaging, especially Ziele, who despite his tragedy is not mired in melancholy. But when it came to the plot itself, which is critical in a mystery, of course, the book fell short. Much of the time is spent chasing shadows around Gotham. There is a nice twist in the story, but it comes too soon in the book, and the rest of the story drags after that. The ending, when it comes, is anticlimatic.
Yet given all that, I’m still curious about Pintoff’s next book (she reportedly has at least two more planned in the series). I like the characters and the time period, and am interested in seeing what happens next -- both to the characters and to Pintoff, as a writer. The series has promise.