Gotham’s Not Just for Batman

shadowgothamI picked up “In the Shadow of Gotham” by Stephanie Pintoff because it had won an Edgar Award for a best new crime fiction novel, and because it had been favorable compared with Caleb Carr (Alienist) for its period details.  Sadly, I was disappointed.  Although it is a good story overall, and Pintoff shows promise as a writer, I cannot quite understand the justification for the award.  The story revolves around a horrific murder of a young woman, Sarah Wingate –a brilliant mathematician at Columbia University– which occurs in the quest bedroom of her aunt’s house in a quiet suburban community.  Enter the hero, detective Simon Ziele, who has fled the stress of the New York City crime scene and the haunting memories of his finacee’s recent death in a ferry accident, who takes on the case of this grisly murder under the supervision of a superior officer, brisling under this young upstarts superior criminology skills.  Pintoff sets up the characters and the murder mystery with great promise, but seems to drop the ball.  The relationship between the characters is not fully formed or explored, but rather dropped; some threads of the mystery are never revisited, and she relies too much on deus ex machina events.  Although I enjoyed the period in which it is set–1905–and her vivid descriptions of old New York and the corruption of Tammany Hall politics, I felt that a lot of the historical facts were hand-jammed into the characters’ mouths and felt stilted and false, almost as if the author were anxious to show off all the facts she had learned through her research.  Lastly, the plotting and pace dragged a bit.  Much of the novel is “talkie” in that the mystery is revealed through a serious of interviews instead of action, which is acceptable and can be very suspenseful as facts unfold, but instead much of the talk is the interior monologue of Simon Ziele, asking questions of himself over and over.  Also, although the ending is full of action, it is a bit comical in its bringing together two combative fiends, the detective, and a kidnapped damsel in distress.  The perp predictably reveals all to the detective before meeting his fate.  Despite these flaws, I think Pintoff has the right stuff, she perhaps just needs to become more seasoned in dialogue and plotting.  Or, needs to get Batman on the case..

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