Westside, by W.M. Akers

I propose a new addition to the list of narrative rules, à la Chekhov’s Gun. My suggestion is that, whenever a character vehemently states that they will not do something, the plot will revolve around the character doing that very thing. Part of my case will be evidence from W.M. Aker’s thrilling Westside, set in alternative 1920s New York that somehow makes the great city even more terrifying than it actually was. Gilda Carr declares that she only solves tiny mysteries. It even says so on her business cards. At the beginning of the novel, Gilda has only signed on to find a missing glove for a wealthy New Yorker. By the end, she’ll have lost too many people and seen her world destroyed.

Apparently there has always a part of Manhattan Island that has always been dangerous. The early European settlers ignored the warnings of the indigenous inhabitants (of course) and set up shop anyway. The Westside “behaved” until the late 1800s, when it began to rebel. Mechanical devices, including guns, stop working. Worse, after the turn of the twentieth century, people started to disappear in the darkness, never to be seen again. This is the world that Gilda grew up in. She knows never to be caught out after sunset without a light and to expect that things will constantly go missing. And after losing her father to the darkness (literal and the figurative darkness of alcoholism and grief), Gilda vows to stay out of serious crime and only tackle small mysteries like missing objects or finding the names of songs stuck in one’s head.

Just when Gilda has decided to just ask the buyer of the wealthy woman’s gloves where he got them, he is murdered right in front of her in an impossible way: he is shot with a rifle, which are not supposed to work on their half of the island. Normally, Gilda would walk away but two things keep her on the case. First, her client insists on having Gilda investigate his death. Second, and more compelling for Gilda, is that these seemingly unrelated crimes are riddled with links to her lost father’s life and life’s work. It turns out that finding out, at last, what really happened to her father is the kind of mystery that Gilda can’t bring herself to drop.

While Gilda investigates, the Westside is about to erupt in violence. Violence is not uncommon in the Westside, given that it’s the home of bootleggers, gangs, and a lot of people who would rather be left very much to themselves. Rumors and plots are stirring the gangs up, to the point where a full blown war between two rival sides seems inevitable. Gilda very much wants to stop the violence, but there’s only so much one woman can do.

For such a relatively slim novel, Westside is packed with wonderful things. The plot is marvelously intricate, believable, and riveting. The characters are fantastically drawn. I loved that this story takes place in a den of thieves. The setting is extraordinarily well done. I read the last fifty or sixty pages at a dead rush because I just had to know what would happen next and to see who would survive. This book completely hooked me and I would definitely recommend it to readers looking for original adventures. This book was sheer brilliance.

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