Friday, May 1, 2020

Westside: W. M. Akers

From the introduction to the book at HarperCollins:
It’s 1921, and a thirteen-mile fence running the length of Broadway splits the island of Manhattan, separating the prosperous Eastside from the Westside—an overgrown wasteland whose hostility to modern technology gives it the flavor of old New York. Thousands have disappeared here, and the respectable have fled, leaving behind the killers, thieves, poets, painters, drunks, and those too poor or desperate to leave.
It is a hellish landscape, and Gilda Carr proudly calls it home.
Slightly built, but with a will of iron, Gilda follows in the footsteps of her late father, a police detective turned private eye. Unlike that larger-than-life man, Gilda solves tiny mysteries: the impossible puzzles that keep us awake at night; the small riddles that destroy us; the questions that spoil marriages, ruin friendships, and curdle joy. Those tiny cases distract her from her grief, and the one impossible question she knows she can’t answer: “How did my father die?”

The story opens with Gilda working on an investigation for a woman in the Eastside. She is trying to find a lost glove for Mrs Edith Copeland, whose husband, Galen, owns a shipping firm. As a result she sees Galen Copeland shot and killed but when she reports this to the police, they are not interested. This "tiny mystery" leads to discoveries related to what happened to her father and why. Gilda breaks her own rule of sticking with the smaller mysteries, and digs further into the mysteries surrounding her father's disappearance.

My thoughts on this book:

This book is a  mashup of so many genres, but in a good way. Historical fiction, mystery, alternate history, private detective novel, and urban fantasy. The story is told in first person, thus we only get Gilda's perspective. That works very well to keep the suspense going. And she is a very entertaining narrator.

I really liked this book.  The story telling is good and it kept me engaged. I especially liked the way the author built this alternative version of New York in the 1920's. Prohibition. Bootleg liquor. Jazz. But a dark and damaged version.

Gilda is a strong female character, capable, not afraid to take chances but she is also childlike and innocent in some ways, which makes her very appealing. The secondary characters are interesting, although in this dark and evil place we know that they may not be trustworthy.

I felt like the mystery element was the strongest and overshadowed the fantasy and supernatural elements. But if you like your mystery straight with no fantasy mixed in, this might not be for you.

There are some extremely violent scenes in this novel, although honestly I did not notice it that much until it was pointed out in a couple of reviews. There is a lot of action and the pacing is good. Once I got close to the end, I could not put the book down until I knew the denouement.

Bookmarks reports "rave" reviews at Chapter 16, New York Times, NY Journal of Books, and Kirkus.

This was the debut novel for W.M. Akers. He has a new book coming out in this series, in early May, and I am interested because  I can't figure out where it will go from here.


Publisher:  Harper Voyager, 2019
Length:      291 pages
Format:     Trade paperback
Series:      Westside, #1
Setting:     Alternate version of New York City, 1920's
Genre:      Cross-genre
Source:     I read my son's copy, which was an ARC.


Judith said...

Westside sounds really different and really good, and so many great reviews! I will keep my eye on Akers. I'm up to my ears in crime novels and mysteries at the moment, yet I'll note it down for future reference. Thanks!

TracyK said...

Judith, I know what you mean. I just got a box of four more books. Not all mysteries, but still, just more added to the list of books I want to read. Westside is an unusual book and might work well for you.

Anonymous said...

The Japanese have a whole tradition of the slice of life mystery of the sort described here, where the mystery does not involve a crime, cf. Hyouka by Honobu Yonezawa.

Margot Kinberg said...

This does sound like an unusual sort of novel, Tracy, and I don't mean that in a bad way. I respect an author who takes chances and does different things to tell a story, especially if the focus is on the story and characters. And it is interesting to think of what New York might have been like in this alternate reality... Glad you enjoyed it.

TracyK said...

Thanks for the suggestion of the Japanese mystery, I will look into that.

TracyK said...

Margot, often when I read novels set in New York I don't get a sense of the city, but here I did, even though it was an alternate version.

col2910 said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it Tracy and you do make it sound appealing, but there's still elements I'd be resistent to, so I'll pass on it.

TracyK said...

That's OK, Col, you have plenty to read and don't need something new. I do hope this author is successful and continues writing novels though.

Kay said...

I had noticed this book but I think yours is the first review I've read. I did also notice that the author has a new book coming out. Same world or series? I'll keep this one in mind. It's a bit out of your normal range isn't it? Not a bad thing, methinks. LOL

TracyK said...

Kay, the new book by this author is in the same series. I will be getting a copy eventually. This is a bit out of my normal reading but I have read other books that mix mystery and other genres. Some work better than others.

Clothes in Books said...

This is not the kind of crime book I normally go for, but this sounds very intriguing, I love the idea of starting with a lost glove and going to mayhem. And I nearly always enjoy your recommendations. If only there weren't so many other books to read!