The book that I mentioned in last night’s post is In the Shadow of Gotham, the first novel by Stefanie Pintoff, who happens to be a graduate of our doctoral program. Stefanie’s dissertation, A Narratology of Detective Fiction, was directed by our colleague Mary Poovey; it examined a range of Victorian novels — including Lady Audley’s Secret, The Woman in White, Bleak House, The Moonstone, Dracula, The Golden Bowl — as well as several Sherlock Holmes stories and Agatha Christie’s most controversial novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Pintoff argued that these fictions are designed to enable readers to recognize that the concepts that we typically use to construct “narraives about knowing” are in fact highly problematic and to model for readers new epistemological approaches. In their different ways, Pintoff suggested, these narratives experiment with form “to demand that readers become self-conscious about the epistemological processes by which we construct knowledge.”
I suspect that In the Shadow of Gotham puts some of these ideas into practice. The book was the winner of the inaugural Minotaur Books/MWA Best First Crime Novel award, and Pintoff’s writing has been compared to that of Caleb Carr.
The novel takes as its point of departure the 1904 General Slocum steamship disaster, which I wrote about here last summer in connection with the film Manhattan Melodrama. Pintoff’s hero, a policeman named Simon Ziele, loses his fiancee in the disaster and leaves the city for a more pastoral setting in Westchester. But the brutal murder of a young woman who was studying mathematics at Columbia University brings him back and requires him to team up with a brilliant criminologist named Alistair Sinclair. That’s because one of Sinclair’s subjects turns out to be the prime suspect in the murder …
On her website, Pintoff describes the appeal of writing about early twentieth-century New York:
Part of the fun I have as a writer researching this series involves delving into the rich history of turn-of-the-century New York. I love poring over old restaurant menus and subway maps, touring historic mansions and reading newspaper archives. What I find fascinating about this time period is its spirit of tremendous energy in the face of rampant change. Simon Ziele’s world was influenced by the growing popularity of the telephone and the phonograph, the automobile and the newly-built underground subway–even as his job was shaped by innovative but controversial practices like fingerprinting and early criminal profiling.
I’ll post again about the novel once I’ve had a chance to read it. But now I’m off to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen — hey, my summer class just ended!