New York City, the city that never sleeps, has long been a captivating backdrop for crime fiction. Its towering skyscrapers, bustling streets, and storied history offer the perfect setting for mysteries, intrigues, and heists. In this blog post, we will dive deep into the world of historical fiction about crime in the Big Apple, unearthing some compelling novels that will transport you to the dark alleys and smoky speakeasies of yesteryears.
“The Alienist” by Caleb Carr
Set in the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, “The Alienist” follows Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a criminal psychologist, and journalist John Schuyler Moore as they investigate a series of gruesome murders in New York City. Amid the glitz and glamor of high society, they venture into the city’s seedy underbelly to track down a deranged serial killer. Caleb Carr masterfully weaves historical accuracy with gripping suspense, immersing readers in the dark streets and forgotten corners of old New York.
“The Gods of Gotham” by Lyndsay Faye
Transporting us to the volatile New York City of the 1840s, “The Gods of Gotham” introduces Timothy Wilde, a newly minted copper star (the predecessor of the modern-day police force). As the city grapples with the influx of immigrants and political tensions, Timothy investigates a string of arson attacks and soon uncovers a sinister plot that threatens to engulf the entire city. Lyndsay Faye’s vivid portrayal of the period and her nuanced characters make this historical crime novel a true page-turner.
“City of Dreams” by Beverly Swerling
Stepping back to the early days of New Amsterdam, “City of Dreams” spans several centuries, chronicling the lives of the Turners, a fictional family embroiled in the city’s criminal underworld. From pirates and slaves to corrupt politicians and gangsters, the novel offers a sweeping saga of New York City’s transformation from a small Dutch outpost to the bustling metropolis it is today.
“The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton
While not strictly a crime novel, Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic provides a fascinating glimpse into New York’s upper crust’s social norms and hidden scandals in the 1870s. Amid a tale of love and betrayal, Wharton exposes the clandestine affairs and carefully guarded secrets that lurk beneath the city’s refined façade.
“Motherless Brooklyn” by Jonathan Lethem
Set in modern-day Brooklyn, this unique crime novel centers around Lionel Essrog, a detective with Tourette’s syndrome. When his mentor and boss, Frank Minna, is murdered, Lionel sets out to unravel the truth behind the crime, leading him deep into the world of organized crime and city politics. Jonathan Lethem’s novel is a gritty and darkly humorous exploration of the city’s contemporary criminal landscape.
“The Diviners” by Libba Bray
Blending crime, the occult, and the Roaring Twenties, “The Diviners” follows Evie O’Neill, a young flapper with the power to divine secrets from objects. As a series of occult-related murders terrorizes the city, Evie and her friends find themselves entangled in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a sinister force. Libba Bray’s atmospheric prose captures the essence of the Jazz Age, making this historical fantasy crime novel a thrilling and immersive read.
“Winter’s Bone” by Daniel Woodrell
Though not set in New York City, “Winter’s Bone” is a must-read for crime fiction enthusiasts. This rural noir novel takes place in the Ozarks, as young Ree Dolly searches for her missing father, who is involved in the local drug trade. The story’s dark and haunting tone and the intricate portrayal of a struggling community evoke parallels with crime fiction set in urban environments.
These novels are just a glimpse into the rich tapestry of crime fiction set in the historical and modern-day New York City. Each one offers a unique perspective on the city’s complex past and its enduring allure as a setting for thrilling crime tales. Whether you’re interested in the Gilded Age, the Roaring Twenties, or the present day, these books are sure to satisfy your craving for mystery, history, and the enigmatic charm of the Big Apple.
Stay tuned for our next entry, where we’ll journey to the American Midwest and uncover hidden gems in historical crime fiction. Until then, happy reading, and keep exploring the dark alleys of literature!