The Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye

The Fatal Flame Since reading The Gods of Gotham, Lyndsay Faye’s first novel to feature New York ‘copper star’ Timothy Wilde, I’ve been looking forward to each new book in what I’d hoped would be a long series. I was disappointed to discover that it’s actually a trilogy and The Fatal Flame is the last we’ll see of Tim and his friends – but pleased to have had the chance to read what has been a very enjoyable set of books.

Timothy’s story began in 1845 when his home in Manhattan was destroyed by fire and his brother, Valentine, helped him find work as a copper star in the newly formed New York City Police Department (the name comes from the copper stars the officers wore to identify themselves). In The Gods of Gotham you can read about the early days of Timothy’s career and how his crime-solving skills gained him a position as one of the NYPD’s first detectives, while the second book, Seven for a Secret, followed his investigations into a gang of ‘blackbirders’ (people who hunted down runaway slaves and returned them to slavery in the south). Ideally, these two books should be read before The Fatal Flame as there are some recurring characters and storylines, but it’s not essential.

In this third and final book, set in 1848, a mysterious arsonist appears to be targeting properties belonging to the unscrupulous politician and businessman Robert Symmes. The main suspect is one of his former employees at the New American Textile Manufactory, a woman with a grudge. But as Tim begins to dig deeper into Symmes’ business dealings and his treatment of his female workers, things quickly become much more complex than they seemed at first – especially when Tim’s brother, Valentine, announces that he will be running against Symmes in the next election. Meanwhile, Mercy Underhill, the fascinating, eccentric woman Timothy loves, has returned from London and it’s not long before she befriends Dunla Duffy, a young Irish girl who could hold the key to the mystery.

Most of the other characters we got to know in the previous novels are also back again in this one, including Bird Daly, Silkie Marsh, Jim Playfair and Elena Boehm. With this being the end of the trilogy, the personal story of each character is brought to a close, in one way or another – I would have hoped for a happier ending for one or two of them, but was satisfied with the way most of their stories concluded. I’ve particularly enjoyed watching the relationship between Timothy and Valentine (my favourite character) develop throughout the three books and I loved their scenes together in this book, especially towards the end.

I have mentioned in my posts on the previous two Timothy Wilde books the use of flash (the language of the criminal underworld) and how it adds to the atmosphere and authenticity of the story. Each novel includes a glossary which translates the flash terminology, although by the time you reach the third book in the series you’ll find yourself relying on it less and less (and the meaning can often be worked out from the context anyway). In this book, we see flash being used for the purpose for which it was originally intended – as a secret language to enable the speakers to hold a conversation that is unintelligible to anyone else who may be listening.

Another of the highlights of this trilogy has been seeing how Lyndsay Faye brings to life the New York City of the 19th century and tackles some of the important issues facing the people who lived there during that period. I have hinted at two of the main themes in The Fatal Flame already: political corruption and the exploitation of female employees (particularly Irish immigrants). Sometimes, though, Timothy’s attitudes towards the injustices of 19th century life make him feel slightly unconvincing as a man of his time, which is really my only criticism of the book and of the trilogy as a whole.

The language, the setting, the atmosphere and, most of all, Tim and Val Wilde – I’ve found so much to enjoy in these three novels! Now I’m wondering what Lyndsay Faye will be writing next.

Thanks to Headline for providing a copy of this book for review.

8 thoughts on “The Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye

  1. jessicabookworm says:

    I am pleased to hear you enjoyed this trilogy. I think it is something I will have consider reading in the future; got to finish the series and trilogies I’ve already started first though!

    • Helen says:

      I’m in the middle of far too many series and trilogies at the moment. I keep losing track of them all and really need to finish them before I start any more!

  2. whatmeread says:

    Gosh, I just finished reading the second one and I can’t wait to start this one. How disappointing to find out it is the last one! It is such a good series.

  3. Pam Thomas says:

    I’ve just finished The Gods of Gotham, having got it from the library on your recommendation, and really enjoyed it. Have just started Seven For a Secret, and I’m hoping that The Fatal Flame will be available through the library service too – otherwise I’ll just have to buy it! It seems a shame to make it just a trilogy, the setting and characters are so strong, but sometimes it’s better not to let a series run on too long, I think. Many thanks for putting me (and others) onto this author!

    • Helen says:

      I’m pleased to hear you liked The Gods of Gotham, Pam, and I hope you’re enjoying Seven for a Secret too. I was surprised (and disappointed) when I discovered this was just a trilogy as I thought there was still the potential for more storylines and more character development, but I’ll be waiting with interest to see what Lyndsay Faye writes next.

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