Friday, May 15, 2015

Lyndsay Faye's "The Fatal Flame"

Lyndsay Faye is the author of critically acclaimed Dust and Shadow, and is featured in Best American Mystery Stories 2010. She is a true New Yorker in the sense that she was born elsewhere.

Faye's love of her adopted city led her to research the origins of the New York City Police Department, the inception of which exactly coincided with the start of the Irish Potato Famine. Her second and third novels, The Gods of Gotham and its sequel Seven for a Secret, follow ex-bartender Timothy Wilde as he navigates the rapids of his violently turbulent city, his no less chaotic elder brother Valentine Wilde, and the perils of learning police work in a riotous and racially divided political landscape.

The latest volume in the series is The Fatal Flame.

Here Faye dreamcasts an adaptation of the trilogy:
Throughout the course of writing the Timothy Wilde trilogy, I’ve been compelled to cudgel my underdeveloped brains when creative and imaginative folks ask me which actors I would pick to play the lead characters, and what the film version of The Fatal Flame or its prequels would look like. My books are historical thrillers that deal with darkness, dirt, and death—though I assure my potential readers there are also plentiful lewd jokes.

In any event, I know exactly what The Fatal Flame’s film version would look like—it would be Gangs of New York but with a grim Batman-esque palette, touches of the Warner Brothers’ version of Sherlock Holmes’s madcap and unabashed humor, and stark Coen brothers’ levels of bleak dust. As for casting The Fatal Flame, however, that is another matter entirely, because Timothy and Valentine Wilde live so large in my head.

Let’s get some of the easier casting out of the way first: have you seen Ripper Street? MyAnna Buring plays the sly, capable, ruthless-but-still-sympathetic brothel madam, and every time she smirks just so, I know she’d make a fantastic Silkie Marsh. Madam Marsh is a sociopath, but a real charmer nevertheless, and I can’t picture anyone worming her way into the highest levels of Tammany intrigue.

Chief of Police George Washington Matsell was literally a larger than life figure—over three hundred pounds, with a dogged, dour countenance that couldn’t quite mask his reserves of humor and fortitude. There are few character actors who could convey the power he wielded, nor the fact that he always sought to better understand the motives of criminals, be they evil inclinations or simpler explanations like poverty. John Goodman could nail this role to the wall.

The love of Timothy’s life, Mercy Underhill, is an enigmatic figure—a beautiful but morbid social worker whose published poetry is as shocking as it is lovely, and a sideways smile that often conceals her true thoughts. While she is highly sympathetic, she is a woman of dark visions and many secrets: who better to play Mercy than the brilliant and mesmerizing Natalie Dormer?

I have a soft spot in my heart for Roundsman Jakob Piest—he is physically unprepossessing, but one of the most genuinely kind and intelligent characters in the series, honorable to a fault though fairly useless in a fistfight. In a world of brutes, he is a plain, decent policeman, and I think Steve Buscemi could bring enormous heart and acumen to the role.

Now to the most difficult decisions: how on earth can I cast the Wilde brothers when they are already so real to me? My choices for Timothy Wilde and Valentine Wilde are Thomas Dekker and Adam Rothenberg, respectively.

Dekker owns a quality any actor playing Tim has to possess—he needs to be sincerely sympathetic, but with a highly developed sense of cynicism. Timothy is equal parts irony and angst, and while these attributes never cause him to grow callous, he has to convey his dislike of grim antebellum New York. Finally, and perhaps most challenging of all, is Tim’s debauched, disgraceful, but utterly brilliant older sibling Valentine—Adam Rothenberg projects dissipation with charm, and even when haggard and impaired, his strength of character is obvious. As a pair of rough-and ready copper stars fighting to survive the corrupt world of Tammany politics, I think Dekker and Rothenberg could succeed in coming close to the Wildes who run so *ahem* wild in my head.
Learn more about the book and author at Lyndsay Faye's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Gods of Gotham.

The Page 69 Test: Seven for a Secret.

--Marshal Zeringue