Penguin.com (usa)

Reading Guides

Seven for a Secret
Lyndsay Faye
Hardcover
$26.95
add to cart
Read an excerpt
Read more...


 

INTRODUCTION

From Edgar-nominated author Lyndsay Faye comes the next book in what Gillian Flynn calls "a brilliant new mystery series."

Six months after the formation of the NYPD, its most reluctant and talented officer, Timothy Wilde, thinks himself well versed in his city's dark practices-until he learns of the gruesome underworld of lies and corruption ruled by the "blackbirders," who snatch free Northerners of color from their homes, masquerade them as slaves, and sell them South to toil as plantation property.

The abolitionist Timothy is horrified by these traders in human flesh. But in 1846, slave catching isn't just legal-it's law enforcement.

When the beautiful and terrified Lucy Adams staggers into Timothy's office to report a robbery and is asked what was stolen, her reply is, "My family." Their search for her mixed-race sister and son will plunge Timothy and his feral brother, Valentine, into a world where police are complicit and politics savage, and corpses appear in the most shocking of places. Timothy finds himself caught between power and principles, desperate to protect his only brother and to unravel the puzzle before all he cares for is lost.


ABOUT LYNDSAY FAYE

Lyndsay Faye

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


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. The Underground Railroad was a famous system that spirited enslaved blacks to freedom in the North. But we are seldom told about the reverse model of the Vigilance Committees—which, as portrayed in the book, fought to keep free people of color above the Mason–Dixon Line. In what ways were these groups as important as the Underground Railroad? Why are the two organizations not discussed today in the same way?

  2. Timothy Wilde has worked among the star police for a mere six months, since the inception of the force in the summer of 1845. His methods of solving crime are based largely on instinct, observation, listening, and common sense. Were you surprised to learn that Manhattan, as a city of nearly half a million, was so late in forming a police force? Or that its policemen were untrained? Which “defenders of the law” side with Tammany? Which are concerned with seeing that justice is served? How do these conflicting motives play out?

  3. Naming is important for the characters Timothy encounters—from the chimney sweep Jean–Baptiste, who chooses his name for himself, to the question of “Lucy Wright” versus “Lucy Adams,” to the fears of the Millingtons’ maid, Grace, who calls being sold South worse than death because at least ghosts get to keep their own names. What does she mean by this? If identity is more meaningful than merely living for these characters, how do they express this feeling? How do they use names as a metaphor for deeper truths about self and autonomy?

  4. The New York that Timothy Wilde inhabits in 1846 is ostensibly a free place, and yet blacks are afforded little or no protection against the dangers of mob law as well as the assaults and kidnappings perpetrated by the blackbirders. Were you aware of this form of literal identity theft before reading the book? To what extent were Manhattanites of African descent free, and to what extent were their freedoms denied?

  5. Delia Wright has lived as the fully privileged daughter of a white doctor, then as his slave, then briefly as a plantation slave, and then as a teacher of black children in New York. Does her nearly white appearance endanger her and her sister, or enable them to hide in plain sight? At this time, was race regarded on the basis of a spectrum of light and dark? Or were all people of color considered exclusively black?

  6. Tammany Hall became notorious for its graft and cronyism, but in the absence of a social safety net, in what ways might it have been a force for good during the antebellum era? Consider the penniless Irish flooding the shores who were often reviled by all save the political machines that wanted their votes. Was this a progressive model, or a merely expedient one?

  7. Valentine Wilde’s morals are unconventional, and despite his boldness, because of his Party connections he is often compelled to make more complex choices than Timothy. What factors affect Valentine’s decisions? What are some of the dilemmas that cause him to walk a tightrope between politics and principle? Does he succeed or not?

  8. The women Timothy encounters in this story are threatened but by no means helpless, and many of them carry battle scars—emotional, spiritual, and physical. How do Bird Daly and the woman who calls herself Lucy Adams mirror each other? How are their reactions to trauma similar, and how do they differ?

  9. Silkie Marsh is a ruthless character and a selfish one, and in every way a self–made woman. Why does her act of charity toward the Wright sisters frighten Timothy so? Does it make Madam Marsh more or less dangerous as an adversary if he knows that she is capable of a small good deed?

  10. Timothy is disgusted by Senator Rutherford Gates for many reasons, including his belief that for Gates, love resembles a leash or a cage. Is Timothy’s assessment of Gates’s motives accurate, and is his anger justified? Why or why not? What does love look like to Timothy? To Valentine? To Lucy Adams?

  11. After the accident that scarred part of his face, Timothy forged an entirely new life for himself. How clearly is he, as a man and as a narrator, able to see himself? Does he over– or underestimate certain aspects of his talents and appearance? In what ways are other characters, such as Valentine, Mrs. Boehm, and Gentle Jim, able to see him better?