Review: The Fatal Flame- Lyndsay Faye

The Fatal Flame (Paperback)

Thanks to shows like Ripper Street, there’s a big market for crime novels with a Victorian flavour (and I’ve read quite a few- I can heartily recommend Alex Grecian’s novels, if that’s your thing) and The Fatal Flame is definitely of the ilk. What’s different about it- and something I liked very much- is that, unlike the general, run-of-the-mill Victorian London/Jack the Ripper type or the British aristo turns genteel detective type, this is set in New York in the 1840s.

Faye is brilliant at conjuring up the grimy, depressing and cutthroat world of the city in its infancy and all the characters who inhabit it are well drawn. Timothy Wilde, the detective who narrates the novel is convincing- a man who is both brave and cowardly, loyal but not to the point of foolishness. He is also deathly afraid of a fire, after one killed his parents and scarred him horrifically. This would be a side note, except he’s investigating a series of arson-murders and the target appears to be a local politician who has an interesting sideline as a slum landlord.

The action takes place in an election period and a lot of the characters are dealing with very modern issues: feminism, homosexuality, immigration and the exploiting of labour, and unions are all present in the novel and this makes the book very appealing to the modern reader. I liked that there were strong female characters who could definitely hold their own against some of the domineering men; quite often women act only as foils in these sorts of novels (and then when criticism is offered, the defense is usually along the lines of ‘it’s representative of its time!’ Which is rubbish.)

I have one criticism of the book and it’s one that did drive me mad and took a while to get used to: Faye has a habit of using short sentences for effect. Which is fine. Except when it’s overused. Which it is. A lot. (See what I did there? Now imagine that across 400 pages.) When I’m reviewing a book, I tend to look online to see if others have picked up on things I’m thinking about and this is something I have seen mentioned. The thing is, it IS a really effective technique, but it does a) take some getting used to from a reader’s point of view and b) loses its impact if it’s used too much. This book is one of a trilogy- I have the other two waiting to be read- and I would read others in the series. I just would hope that there would be fewer of the short sentences- but then I am an English teacher and I do pick up on stuff like that probably more than most. It’s relatively minor and once I did get used to it, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

As a quick side note- you don’t have to have read the other, preceding books to enjoy this. It doesn’t endlessly harp back to the previous novels, which can sometimes be the case and I picked up everything I needed to know about the plot quickly.

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