Author: Stefanie Pintoff (click author’s name to view her website)
Publisher: Minotaur Books
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
It is 1904 and Detective Simon Ziele fled New York City to take a job in the small town of Dobson, New York after his fiancée is tragically killed. Soon after he arrives, the horrific murder of a young woman in her own home is committed in Dobson and it eventually leads Simon back the city and Columbia University where renowned criminologist, Alistair Sinclair helps him investigate a man he has studied that he believes is the prime suspect in the case.
In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff was awarded the 2010 Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. I thought it was a really good first effort from Stefanie Pintoff. I quite enjoyed reading about the mystery and investigation of the murder in turn of the century New York. It was a time of emerging science so concepts we are so familiar with today like DNA, fingerprinting, toxicology screens, etc. were either not in existence or were just beginning to be used in criminal investigations. Simon is more familiar with newer techniques since part of his career was spent in New York City where these methods were being used.
I also really like the criminologist, Alistair Sinclair. Stefanie Pintoff made his character sufficiently complicated that I felt like I alternately rooted for and loathed him. Because he was extremely driven in the U.S. field of criminology, Sinclair often blurred the ethical lines for profiling criminals and potential criminals. However, during that time, ethics in science and behavioral sciences was still developing which made the story quite thoughtful and interesting and made me think, at what cost do we pursue progress? To look back into our past and see the things researchers have done in the name of progress might horrify us today, but without their research would we be in the same place we are today? It’s a debate that I find quite interesting.
As far as the plot was concerned, I enjoyed that quite a bit too. The focus was on the investigation so there was a definite disconnect with the victim in some ways. I actually liked this about the book because this is how most detectives have to work when solving a murder. They don’t know the victim personally so piecing their life together through evidence is one of the few ways they are able to personify the victim. I had an inkling of who I thought was the murderer through most of the book, but I felt like I was piecing it together as it went along. I also didn’t really figure it out until it happened. However, most of the people in my book club did figure it out before the reveal. I will also note that the cover of the book has a quote from Publisher’s Weekly that compared Stefanie Pintoff to Caleb Carr. This was a big source of contention in my book club and one person in particular took exception to the comparison. I have never read Caleb Carr so I cannot compare the two, but I will say that I try not to compare authors unless there is blatant plagiarism or some other issue with material that I find really egregious.
Overall, I enjoyed the book quite a bit and thought it was well-written. If you like period mysteries in an urban setting, I highly recommend this book. I will definitely be picking up Stefanie Pintoff’s new book, A Curtain Falls in the future.