It is no wonder that Stefanie Pintoff won the first St. Martin's Minotaur Books / Mystery
Writers of America Best First Crime Novel award for her debut novel, In the Shadow of Gotham.
Holding both a degree from the Columbia Law School and a Ph.D. in literature from New York
University, Pintoff knows how to write well. However, her experience as a modern lawyer hardly
prepared her for the depth of detail and authenticity in this novel, not only in historical
relevance but in the legalities of 1905 New York. She also nails the social roles so well I
often thought I was reading a book written from that period—except this novel had a
clarity of language I wouldn't expect from that era.
The story is an intricate one dealing with the brutal slaying of a young woman, a graduate
student in mathematics. Enter Detective Simon Ziele, who has transferred from the violence of
Manhattan to the sleepy burg of Dobson, NY. Unfortunately, even in this Westchester County hamlet,
Ziele cannot escape brutality and murder (of which this young woman's is but the first), and he
returns again and again to New York City, working through leads. Aiding him is Alistair Sinclair,
a wealthy university researcher who is delving into the criminal mind, revealing the rudiments of
modern criminology and profiling. Sinclair insists that the young woman's murder is the work of
Michael Fromley, a criminal he has been studying for several months. But it is Sinclair's recently
widowed daughter-in-law, Isabella, who provides Ziele with more help than Sinclair's entire research
staff, accompanying him on interviews and doing detailed research. Finding the murderer, however,
is much more complex than Sinclair's early deductions and offers the reader a fine chase from red
herring to red herring.
In the Shadow of Gotham is an exquisite work that could easily compete with the master,
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Stefanie Pintoff, however, offers a much more complete picture of women,
showing them as brilliant and capable, and also vulnerable or tough when they have had to take up
unpleasant livelihoods. When I finished In the Shadow of Gotham, I truly hoped I would see
more of Detective Simon Ziele and perhaps Isabella Sinclair in the future. Ms. Pintoff will
continue the adventures of Detective Ziele in the early twentieth century in a series dedicated
to him. The second book, The Darkest Verse, will be available next year.