In Review: Westside

A fantastic setting populated with wonderful characters in a sensational mystery whose final act disappoints.

Westside by W.M. Akers

Published by Harper Voyager on May 7, 2019. Hardcover of 294 pages at $22.99. Also available as an E-book and Audiobook. 

Note: A read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: An almost faded black background has faded gold lines on each side of the image. The title is at the top in the largest font. A large woman’s white glove sits on a photograph of the city seen from the waterfront. Within the glove is a map of the city, including a red line marking a specific route. To the left of the glove it states A TINY MYSTERY. INFINITE DARKNESS. At the bottom is the author’s name. There’s no specific credit given to the cover artist, which is sad because this is a really good cover with several clues about the story found within it. I really like covers that subtly show the reader elements of the plot without spoiling things. This cover does just that. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “A young detective who specializes in ‘tiny mysteries’ finds herself at the center of a massive conspiracy in this beguiling historical fantasy set on Manhattan’s Westside — a peculiar and dangerous neighborhood home to strange magic and stranger residents. Blending the vivid atmosphere of Caleb Carr with the imaginative power of Neil Gaiman. Westside is a mystery steeped in the supernatural and shot through with gunshots, rotgut whiskey, and sizzling Dixieland jazz. Full of dazzling color, delightful twists, and truly thrilling action, it announces the arrival of a remarkable talent.” I love historical fiction novels, particularly those by Harry Turtledove. I’m always looking for more to read in this genre, so this has me excited. Overall grade: A

The characters: The protagonist is Gilda Carr, a twenty-seven-year-old woman who lives on her own solving “tiny mysteries” which are little mysteries that escape the interest of the police and don’t involve crime or, especially, murder. Gilda thought that she was simply searching for the missing glove of Edith Copeland and finds herself involved in murder, politics, and something supernatural. She is the narrator of this story and author Akers has a great handle on her character. I loved how she thought, how she was resourceful, and how she wasn’t impervious to pain, fear, or regret. She is a classic female gumshoe, though she would deny that she is. Galen Copeland is Edith’s husband and does more than go out at night for a drink. It’s his character that sets Gilda on the tangled affair of this novel. Juliette Copeland is Edith and Galen’s only child and might know more than she’s telling anyone. Virgil Carr is Gilda’s dead father. He was an infamous cop, who used his fists and anything else laying around to get information, answers, or just a public face to pin a crime. Drinking, regrets, and secrets are all over his past and Gilda doesn’t want to learn them, but may have no choice. Working at the last police department in the Westside is Lieutenant Thorne, who sits outside his dilapidated building that contains few officers, drinking or already in a state of inebriation. There are several other characters that appear in the novel, many of them vying for control of this magically touched environment, but I won’t name them so as not to spoil anything about them, but there are two major players I’ve not mentioned. There are several types of antagonists: thugs, criminals in positions of power, and the mystery of what’s causing the woes to the Westside. These fantasy elements that are touched upon ultimately did not payoff as I was hoping, which lessened the book’s impact. Overall grade: C+

The settings: Manhattan of 1921 is the location of this book, with the Westside having had mysterious disappearances since 1903 that have increased over time. Plant life sprouts up overnight for no reason, rooms in buildings disappear, with the buildings sometimes vanishing as well. Mechanical objects don’t work in the Westside, such as guns, so crimes are committed with anything found. The city lives on candles and trashcan fires at night, because the general consensus is that the darkness swallows people at night, but light can keep the darkness at bay. Gangs run around in daylight, but stick together when the sun goes down. Heck, New York is threatening to raise the whole area. This is a fantastic location because nothing works correctly, things are rotting, since there’s no refrigeration, and doors sometimes become walls. It’s a brilliant creation and I savored it when Gilda went to a new location. Overall grade: A+

The action: I enjoy books that start small and then blossom into world changing situations, and that’s what happens here. A search for a lost glove leads to murder, lies, politics, and world warping realities. There are also two groups in the city that may be leading to war in the streets for power, and the build to this possible action was fantastic. However, once the reality of what the disappearances were, who knew of them, and why they were used deflated all that was built. Overall grade: C+

The conclusion: The last four chapters had me wishing for the end of this book. I was let down immensely by the reveal. I thought it would be more fantasy based, and outside of one element of the disappearances, it’s more science fiction than fantasy. But it wasn’t enough sci-fi for me. I was so disappointed. Overall grade: D-

The final line: A fantastic setting populated with wonderful characters in a sensational mystery whose final act disappoints. Though I didn’t like this book, I would be willing to read more exploits of Gilda Carr should there be any. There’s a lot in this to enjoy, but it lost me with a lackluster conclusion. Overall grade: C-

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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