The beginnings of the New York City Police Department in 1845 are at the heart of Lyndsay Faye’s series debut, The Gods of Gotham
Where did this book come from?
I began with the concept of day one, cop one—the very first New York City police officer on his first day on the job. I knew nothing about the topic, and thus rolled up my sleeves and spent six months buried in the depths of the New York Public Library’s research library and the New York Historical Society. Much of the plot came directly from my research: the fire that decimated lower Manhattan, the formation of the police, the flood of Irish immigration due to the concurrent Potato Famine. Once I learned about all the incredible events that took place in 1845 New York, I had an enormous amount of historical drama to cull from.
What led to the formation of the NYPD at exactly that time?
New York City, which already had a population of 400,000, was growing exponentially during this period. But its system of peacekeeping was a joke. The night watch consisted of hard-working men with full-time day jobs who were paid very little to sleep through their night shifts in little wooden watchmen’s booths. Something had to be done. But the thriving criminal population—as well as some doubtless well-meaning libertarians—started howling against the notion of a standing army whenever forming a police force was suggested. It was a struggle to create and fund the initial police department, but sticking with the watch was simply no longer tenable.
How is this a uniquely New York City story?
This is a novel about cultures colliding, about the violence that erupts when people from very different lands are suddenly tossed into a new community with limited resources and told to get along. Nowhere on earth does this happen as often or as dramatically as it does in New York.
How did writing this book differ from creating your Sherlock Holmes novel, Dust and Shadow?
That was the first novel I ever wrote, and I’d no notion whether or not I was capable of completing a project so enormous and so exhausting. Pulling it off was a surprise—getting it published was a miracle. So in a sense, this one was much easier, because I knew I was capable of writing a book. That said, there’s a distinct difference between writing a Doyle pastiche and finding your own voice. Holmes and Watson need no introduction, so with Timothy Wilde, my policeman hero, I had to begin at the beginning, at the exact moment his life changes forever. It was thrilling, and not a little intimidating.