Guest Post: The Fatal Flame: A Portrait of Love by Lyndsay Faye

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Today I am bringing you a brilliant guest post from Lyndsay Faye, author of one of the most exciting and original trilogies I have read in the past few years. The Fatal Flame is the third and final book in the Timothy Wilde series and my review can be read here. The book itself is available to buy now.

The Fatal Flame: A Portrait of Love
By Lyndsay Faye

Writing a novel is a very chicken-and-egg process, and after finishing them I inevitably wonder—what came first here, plot, style, or character? I imagine that every harried scribbler who has been questioned about their inspiration has found themselves similarly uninspired when forming a reply. While flattered that anyone might care to pose the query, say Lyndsay, how did you come to write this book in the first place? I fear that such questioners don’t want to hear me respond, I honestly have no idea, and thus little exercises like this one become illuminating for me as much as for the reader. (No one is more deeply impressed by the profundity of my professional ignorance than myself.)

The Fatal Flame is a great example of a book that presented me with so many motives for penning it that the work seemed almost inevitable, but let’s talk plot first. The third book in the Timothy Wilde trilogy, it rounds out the trifecta of New York City copper star tales, all of which focus on different historical dilemmas during the pre-American Civil War period. The Gods of Gotham, Timothy’s origin story describing his life as a recently disfigured policeman with a thirst for justice and a chip on his shoulder, largely focuses on the plight of Irish Catholics fleeing the Great Famine in 1845, and the grotesquely bigoted treatment they received at the hands of Protestant New Englanders upon their arrival. The second installment, Seven for a Secret, dealt with corrupt police officers and the widespread kidnap of free African Americans, who before slavery ended were very often abducted and sold in Southern plantation states. Finally, The Fatal Flame follows the lives of the first female rights agitators, women who objected to being paid a pittance for grueling and unsafe work in sewing manufactories. So you could say that the trilogy is about religious persecution, and then racial persecution, and then gender persecution.

But while I try my utmost to keep the historical record accurate as regards the harrowing wrongs suffered by women and minorities during the nineteenth century, the Timothy Wilde books are never soapboxes from which I bellow political screeds. (If they were, no one would read them—heck, if they were, I wouldn’t read them either.)

Maybe The Fatal Flame and the rest of the trilogy are about style? God knows I adore the language spoken by the local “dead rabbits” of the time period, a slang dialect called “flash patter” born of secrecy and skullduggery. Historically, it was useful for crooks to communicate with each other in cryptic code—therefore, historically, it was necessary for the police to learn the language of the criminals (setting aside for the moment that the police and the criminals were often the same people). The first New York City police commissioner, George Washington Matsell, was codifying this low dialect into a dictionary during the 1840s, and language in all its glories and corruptions is a major aspect of The Fatal Flame. There is even a scene in which Timothy and his brother, police captain Valentine Wilde, are forced to speak only flash so as to hide their true conversation from a ruthless and sadistic politician.

But the Timothy Wilde novels aren’t esoteric treks through the heart of a dead language either (or I hope they aren’t), so as much as I miss writing “flash” when doing other projects, if they were all style and no heart, then the discerning wouldn’t read them (and neither would I).

Ultimately, The Fatal Flame and its prequels are about love. They are about love between Timothy and his young friend Bird Daly, the paternal sort that longs only to protect. They are about love between Timothy and Mercy Underwood, the romantic sort that can ruin and rescue in equal measure, and which often blinds people to the truth. They are about love between Timothy and his friends—his fellow copper stars, his landlady Elena, his partner Jakob Piest, the camaraderie that makes hard lives bearable. And most importantly, they are about the damaged, often fraught love between Timothy and his brother Valentine, the fraternal sort that despite being painful runs too deep to be questioned.

So my ultimate hope is - despite my efforts in the realms of plot and style - that when anyone is kind enough to remember The Fatal Flame, they remember the love in it, the struggles of the people within its pages to forgive themselves and each other. If there weren’t any love left to write about, I would certainly never have penned any of these books, and I’m forever grateful for readers who are generous enough to love these characters in turn.

Thanks to Lyndsay Faye for writing this guest post. 

About Lyndsay Faye

Lyndsay Faye is the author of Dust and Shadow: an Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson, praised by the Conan Doyle Estate for its enthusiastic knowledge of the Sherlock Holmes canon and its rigorous attention to the grim details of the Jack the Ripper murders. Her short story 'Colonel Warburton's Madness' was selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories 2010, co-edited by Otto Penzler and Lee Child. A board member of the New York chapter of Mystery Writers of America, Lyndsay resides in Queens with her husband.

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