Today we are glad to welcome crime writer Lyndsay Faye to The Crime House. Lyndsay writes historical crime novels set in New York. The first book in her series about Timothy Wilde is called The Gods of Gotham.
The series about Timothy Wilde is a historical novel set in the 1840s. What made you decide to write about that period?
I think that origin stories are really resonant and meaningful. The NYPD is a renowned organization, and countless books and films and TV shows make use of its infamous reputation. What I wanted to know was what Day One, Cop One of the NYPD looked like–how did the copper stars operate before they were famous and before they had learned to use forensics to solve crimes? Since the NYPD was founded in 1845, I found as much research material as possible and went from there. I’d never seen a novel set in that time, so I decided to write what I wanted to read.
Since you know Mattias Boström, a Swedish Sherlock Holmes fanatic, I assume you are also a Sherlock Holmes fan? If so, can you tell us what Doyle and his books has meant to you?
Yes! Mattias and I are old chums. I’ve been preoccupied with Sherlock Holmes for over two thirds of my life, so the stories mean a very great deal to me. And then, living in New York as I do, loving Sherlock Holmes can be something of a lifestyle choice. A great many of my friends are die-hard Sherlockians. I’m a part of the Baker Street Irregulars, the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, as well as the Baker Street Babes podcast and other organizations. The Sherlock Holmes mysteries are a beautiful portrait of a lifelong friendship and I adore them.
Recently I saw an American TV-series called Copper and thought it was very similar to your book with an Irish police officer in the center, the Five Points area, a brothel etc. even if it is set in the 1860s. Have you seen it? And if what are your thoughts on the series?
I’ve never seen Copper, so can’t comment on this.
Can you give us some examples of what books you read as a child and tell us what book you are reading now?
Oh, I read voraciously throughout my childhood, so that’s a very long list–Sherlock Holmes and The Lord of the Rings were favorites, but I also read a lot of other classics–Shakespeare, Austen, the Brontes, old school sci-fi like Heinlein and Herbert and Dick. Then there was the fantasy genre stuff like the Redwall and the Narnia series, and when I started high school I got into more American literature like Hemingway and Faulkner and Fitzgerald and Morrison and Walker. Now I read just as omnivorously– presently the book is Sutton by J. R. Moehringer. It’s fantastic.
Do you have any authors you look up to in the historical genre?
Certainly. Tons of them. Caleb Carr and Lynn Shepherd and Louis Bayard and Matthew Pearl are favorites, for instance, and I adore The Crimson Petal and the White. Perfume: the Story of a Murderer is outstanding–I wish I’d written it.
I understand you are also an actor? If one of your book ever was made in to a movie or series, would you consider acting in it? And what character would you like to portrait?
I think it’s much more accurate to say that I used to be an actor–there aren’t any characters in my books I wrote to directly resemble me. Of course, they all resemble me in some ways, because they all came from my head, but I’m not very likely to be cast as Timothy!
I guess you must do a lot of research for your books. How much time do you spend on research and can you describe a typical day doing research?
Most of my research is conducted at the Bryant Park Research Library in Midtown Manhattan. I spend a lot of time in their microfilm department going through diaries and menus and local newspapers from the time period. It takes about six months per book for me to research the era sufficiently.
I sometimes like to imagine the author of the book I´m reading, writing. What kind of place they are writing in? Is it at a desk? On the sofa? At a café? Is the desk messy? Or neatly organized, and so on. My guess for you would be – At home, by a desk with a lap-top and a semi-messy desk, and a cup of coffee, perhaps a cat nearby? Am I close?
Ha! Well, I would like to say that it’s perfect, but I only wish I had a desk. I live in a one-bedroom apartment north of Harlem, so I don’t have any sort of office whatsoever. And I’m a very small, wiry person with far too much energy, so I never drink coffee–it makes my heart race like crazy. I guess it would be closer to say that there is a messy dining room table with piles of books on it and a laptop and a cup of lavender earl grey tea. Certainly there are cats, that is absolutely correct–two felines, Grendel and Prufrock.
I found your books very political and in fact, many of the issues, (like racism, poverty, brothels, trafficking) are problems we deal with today as well. Do you think it is easier to handle those issues because the books take place 150 years ago?
Well, it isn’t necessarily easier, because as you said yourself these are problems that we deal with today and it’s truly unfortunate that the issues in my books are still relevant. You’re definitely right to say my books are very political, but I think that’s partly inspired by current injustices. For instance, when I was writing about anti-Catholic persecution, Muslims as well as Hispanic immigrants in America were having a terrible time of it, and a lot of the bigoted rhetoric sounded exactly the same. What I think is important is for us to examine the past and come to a greater understanding of why we’re still screwing up in highly similar fashions now.
The second book in the Wilde-series is not yet published in Sweden. Can you tell us something about that book?
Yes! It’s set six months after The Gods of Gotham–Tim Wilde falls afoul of a band of slave catchers who were snatching free people of color from the streets of New York to be sold south as “runaway slaves.” It was the most horrifying form of identity theft you could imagine, and unfortunately a very widespread practice. I’m not sure if the film Twelve Years a Slave is out in Sweden yet, but it’s based on an autobiography I used heavily in my research by a man named Solomon Northrup. He was kidnapped and forced to work on plantations for well over a decade before escaping.
And last, what is your favorite crime novel of all time, favorite crime movie, and favorite Crime TV-series?
I can’t possibly pick my favorite among the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, so I’ll cheat and say The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Chinatown is probably my favorite crime film, and as for series, now I’ll swing back to my real obsession and say the BBC production Sherlock.
Thank you Lyndsay!