Synopses & Reviews
Dobson, New York, 1905.
Detective Simon Ziele lost his fiancée in the General Slocum ferry disaster—a thousand perished on that summer day in 1904 when an onboard fire burned the boat down in the waters of the East River. Still reeling from the tragedy, Ziele transferred to a police department north of New York, to escape the city and all the memories it conjured.
But only a few months into his new life in a quiet country town, hes faced with the most shocking homicide of his career to date: Young Sarah Wingate has been brutally murdered in her own bedroom in the middle of an otherwise calm and quiet winter afternoon. After just one day of investigation, Simons contacted by Columbia Universitys noted criminologist Alistair Sinclair, who offers a startling claim about one of his patients, Michael Fromley—that the facts of the murder bear an uncanny resemblance to Fromleys deranged mutterings.
But what would have led Fromley, with his history of violent behavior and brutal fantasies, to seek out Sarah, a notable mathematics student and a proper young lady who has little in common with his previous targets? Is Fromley really a murderer, or is someone mimicking him?
This is what Simon Ziele must find out, with the help of the brilliant but self-interested Alistair Sinclair—before the killer strikes again.
With this taut, atmospheric, and original story of a haunted man who must search for a killer while on the run from his own demons, Stefanie Pintoffs In the Shadow of Gotham marks the debut of an outstanding new talent, the inaugural winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America Best First Crime Novel Competition.In the Shadow of Gotham is the winner of the 2010 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.
Praise for In the Shadow of Gotham
“Will remind many of Caleb Carr at his best.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The author has inevitably been compared to Caleb Carr. . . . She does an outstanding job of blending historical detail with engaging characters and a suspenseful plot.”
—The Denver Post
“Pintoff excavates a rich vein of early criminology. . . . She also delivers a gripping detective story.”
“Nicely contrasts academic theorizing with the reality of police detection set against the backdrop of a vividly depicted turn-of-the-century Gotham. Recommend to readers who enjoy historicals of this period, such as Caleb Carrs The Alienist and Ann Stamoss Bitter Tide.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
Stefanie Pintoff's acclaimed and award-winning debut is the taut historical tale of Detective Simon Ziele, a man who lost his fiancée in the 1904 General Slocum ferry disaster and thereafter flees New York City for Dobson, New York, to escape the memories of her death. But months into his tenure, he catches the worst homicide of his career: a young woman brutally murdered in her own bedroom in the middle of the afternoon. His investigation quickly takes him to Columbia University criminologist Alistair Sinclair and one of his patients. But what could lead this Michael Fromley, with his history of violent behavior, to target such a proper young lady? Is Michael really behind the murder or is someone mimicking him? Ziele must discover the truth in this story of a haunted man on the trail of a killer while on the run from his own demons.
About the Author
Stefanie Pintoff is the author of A Curtain Falls and Secret of the White Rose. In the Shadow of Gotham is the winner of the 2010 Edgar Award for Best First Novel and the Washington Irving Book Prize, and she has earned nominations for the Agatha, Anthony and Macavity Awards. She is also a graduate of Columbia University Law School and has a Ph.D. in literature from New York University. Now a full-time writer, she lives with her husband and daughter on Manhattans Upper West Side.
Reading Group Guide
1. A key element of the novel is the relationship between Detective Ziele and Alistair Sinclair. There is an obvious tension between the two, yet they need each other to solve the brutal murder at the center of the book. Is their budding partnership borne simply of necessity, or is there more to it than that?
2. Another relationship central to the novel is that between Detective Ziele and Isabella Sinclair. While there is clearly an attraction between the two that is greater than mutual admiration, it is harnessed by the social dictates of 1905 New York and the awkwardness of Isabella's relation to Alistair. Discuss how their attraction is authentic, and how it is masked by the tragic losses each has experienced in the recent past.
3. Detective Ziele has seen more than his share of tragedy. How have these events shaped him into the man we first meet in the novel?
4. On page 72 of the novel, Alistair explains the science of criminology in layman's terms: "Criminals are best understood through their crimes," Alistair clarified with a slight smile. "But you can flip it around, and say that crimes are best understood through criminal behavior at the crime scene.” This premise is the focus of Alistair's studies at his Research Center at Columbia University. Discuss the impact of Alistair's knowledge of criminology in the murder investigation into Sarah Wingate. Does it help them to solve the crime? Or is it an impediment to Detective Ziele's preference for tried and proven investigative methodology?
5. There are two very strong women at the center of the novel—Sarah Wingate, a brilliant young mathematician, and Isabella Sinclair. Yet they exhibit their strength in very different ways. Sarah is bold, a leader in a man's field, and not willing to keep in step with society's dictates. On the other hand, Isabella prefers to stay within accepted boundaries, but her inner strength is no less remarkable. Discuss the differences between the two women and their roles in advancing women's issues at the turn of the century.
6. The ethical dilemma at the heart of the novel is best described on page 200. “I need to know just one more thing," I said quietly. "Had you known about Moira Shea from the beginning, would you still have facilitated the dismissal of charges against Michael Fromley and accepted him into your custody?" His answer was important to my judgment of him, for in my mind, the question of his intent was crucial. Had Alistair made reckless decisions along the way because he had been blinded by the importance of his research? Or was his hubris so large that he believed his own intellectual pursuits were all-important, and the rest of the world be damned? There was a long moment's pause as I waited for his reply. Finally, he looked at me, and I saw both honesty and fear reflected in his eyes as he replied, "I do not know." Does Detective Ziele judge Alistair too harshly for his decisions? What would you have done had you been in Alistair's shoes?
7. How is contemporary life at once different and yet surprisingly the same as life 100 years ago? Interesting areas of comparison include: cuisine, dress, social dictates, technology, modes of transportation, and entertainment.