As devastating as the dramatic finale of The Fatal Flame is - and it is a breathless, violent, shocking and heart-stopping ending - the killer blow is not dealt until the epilogue. It is only then that Lyndsay Faye - damn her - makes it clear that this is he very end. Her Timothy Wilde trilogy really is to be a trilogy, not, as I had hoped, an epic series that might take the New York copper from the 1840s all the way to 1861 and the Civil War...
It had all been perfectly teed up in another rip-roaring adventure for pioneering detective Wilde that drives a fire engine straight through the middle of New York city politics pitching Timothy and his flamboyant brother Valentine into a dangerous and explosive fight against the endemic corruption of the all powerful Tammany Hall machine.
Timothy, as liberal a soul as can be imagined, particularly in an otherwise brutal police force, is tasked to investigate a series of fires apparently targeting the property of influential alderman Robert Symmes, just as his brother, perhaps more of a libertarian than a liberal, decides to take on the alderman in the imminent ward election.
Neither brother likes playing with fire. The pair were orphaned as a result of a blaze started by Valentine, while Timothy later lost almost everything in the great fire of 1845. So for both brothers the struggle is both personal and desperate, and quickly envelops them, bringing both their friends and enemies into the line of, er, fire.
This has been the most gripping of series, matching broad sweep political and economic developments in the often painful birth of NYC as a major power with painstaking detail of life on the streets - including the "flash"dialect which has given the novels a rare vibrancy. Tying all this together are the mysteries gradually unraveled by Timothy, New York's first detective and a passionate defender of the down-trodden. Timothy and his home city - a dangerous cocktail of febrile economic growth and hopeless poverty, fuelled in part by an endless stream of immigrants from Ireland and elsewhere - vie for top billing throughout all three books, but in the end they are inseparable components of each other's growth.
The Fatal Flame is a worthy full stop to what has been an extraordinarily good series. I can only hope that Lyndsay Faye has something of equal stature to fill the gap that its passing leaves.
Material Witness reviews of the Wilde trilogy
The Gods of Gotham (2012)
Seven for a Secret (2013)
Interview with Lyndsay Faye (2013)