The slave trade is Faye’s follow-up to The Gods of Gotham, a foray into New York City in the mid-1840s where “copper star” Timothy Wilde undertakes a mission to retrieve the son and sister of Mrs. Lucy Adams, who bursts into the precinct frantic for help. With the assistance of his larger-than-life brother Valentine, boss of Ward Eight, and a few men for backup, the pair converges on the slave-stealers in what is only the beginning of a heinous plot complicated by corruption, politics and profit.
Garnering a fan base from her popular first NYC-based historical novel, Faye’s task is to incorporate new faces and events while pulling in familiar faces in the Gotham scenario. To this end, her protagonist adds the details of his former adventures as new ones evolve, a plethora of social ills in the growing city, a vast canvas from which Faye can pluck her topics. Capturing freedmen and delivering them to the South as slaves is big business in a city grappling with a system of laws to meet current needs, including an influx of Irish immigrants who have their own problems with the old guard that so firmly grips NYC politics. Because blacks cannot testify in court, it is fairly easy to provide false witnesses to the identity of the supposed escaped slaves.
When Timothy rushes to a courtroom in an attempts to rescue Julius Carpenter, an educated black man and member of the New York Committee of Vigilance, from a scheme to send him South as an escaped slave, the lawman finds himself face to face with an old nemesis. Silkie Marsh owns a well-connected brothel, has long harbored an affection for Valentine and takes no pains to conceal her disdain for his brother. Silkie’s involvement in the slave-trading business does not bode well for those whom Timothy hopes to shelter from the renegade slavers, suggesting a vast and profitable network far more entrenched in local politics than expected. In a series of violent encounters, near-misses and escalating animosity, Timothy is faced with a daunting organization and too little time to save the innocent victims of the illegal enterprise.
While Faye convincingly portrays New York City in a socially turbulent era as a newly formed police force tries to establish its legitimacy and criminals take every advantage of opportunities to make a profit on the helplessness of innocents, her protagonist waxes between confidence, bravado and outrage. Having been horribly scarred in the previous novel, Wilde is painfully conscious of his changed mien, as well as constantly reminded of his smaller size in comparison to the impressive Valentine. None of this would matter if Faye accented this character’s male perspective with less emphasis on his delicate sensitivities. The descriptions of a rowdy city prone to spasms of violence, the characters that prowl in search of victims and those who fall prey to their machinations are ugly and often bloody. Regrettably, Timothy Wilde never fulfills the promise of his name.
I picked up this novel with great expectations after the excellent reviews for The Gods of Gotham but was discomfited early on by the author’s portrayal of a character without the requisite masculine qualities expected in such a figure. For me, Faye’s prose fails to transcend the gender of her protagonist. Many authors have faced this issue and created believable characters, the sex of the writer irrelevant. Not so with Seven for a Secret. It may not be a problem for others, but I doubt that I will trust this author to transport me into the wilds of a burgeoning New York City in another novel.