Westside by W.M. Akers Westside by W.M. Akers
Series: Westside #1
Published by Harper Voyager on May 7, 2019
Source: Library
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 320
Format: eBook
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three-stars

New York is dying, and the one woman who can save it has smaller things on her mind.

It’s 1921, and a thirteen-mile fence running the length of Broadway splits the island of Manhattan, separating the prosperous Eastside from the Westside—an overgrown wasteland whose hostility to modern technology gives it the flavor of old New York. Thousands have disappeared here, and the respectable have fled, leaving behind the killers, thieves, poets, painters, drunks, and those too poor or desperate to leave.

It is a hellish landscape, and Gilda Carr proudly calls it home.

Slightly built, but with a will of iron, Gilda follows in the footsteps of her late father, a police detective turned private eye. Unlike that larger-than-life man, Gilda solves tiny mysteries: the impossible puzzles that keep us awake at night; the small riddles that destroy us; the questions that spoil marriages, ruin friendships, and curdle joy. Those tiny cases distract her from her grief, and the one impossible question she knows she can’t answer: “How did my father die?”

Yet on Gilda’s Westside, tiny mysteries end in blood—even the case of a missing white leather glove. Mrs. Copeland, a well-to-do Eastside housewife, hires Gilda to find it before her irascible merchant husband learns it is gone. When Gilda witnesses Mr. Copeland’s murder at a Westside pier, she finds herself sinking into a mire of bootlegging, smuggling, corruption—and an evil too dark to face.

All she wants is to find one dainty ladies’ glove. She doesn’t want to know why this merchant was on the wrong side of town—or why he was murdered in cold blood. But as she begins to see the connection between his murder, her father’s death, and the darkness plaguing the Westside, she faces the hard truth: she must save her city or die with it.

Introducing a truly remarkable female detective, Westside is a mystery steeped in the supernatural and shot through with gunfights, rotgut whiskey, and sizzling Dixieland jazz. Full of dazzling color, delightful twists, and truly thrilling action, it announces the arrival of a remarkable talent.

Westside is the first in a series starring Gilda Carr, a young woman who looks into what she calls “tiny mysteries.” She’s not interested in solving murders – big mysteries mean big problems and Gilda doesn’t need that. Her mom died when she was a kid, and her father, Virgil Carr aka “Clubber,” was not only the founder of a notorious Westside gang, he later became a notorious cop, vanishing in a notorious disappearance some years back.

Our setting is Manhattan of 1921, but it’s a stranger, darker, wilder place. Odd objects, coffee pots, stairway railings, entire buildings just disappear. Things rot and rust quicker. Machines stop working. Guns fail. The trees do well, though, growing fast and unnaturally tall. Streets become streams instead of the other way around. Occasional waterfalls form and descend from rooftops. It is where Gilda lives.

And people disappear. In 1914 when over three thousand people vanished on the Westside, thirteen miles of fence was erected down Broadway to separate the Westside from the rest of Manhattan. The differences between the two sides are remarkable. Westside is dangerous. Well, the rest is too, probably, it is New York City, but not in the same unpredictable way.

Gilda is hired by Edith Copeland to find a missing glove, one of a pair her husband had given her as a gift. She would like the glove found and returned, as she does not want to face awkward questions about its absence. But in this version of New York, tiny mysteries have a way of leading to very large questions, and Gilda’s investigation leads her to a very, very dark side of the city.

Gilda is a great character, smart, brave, witty. I love the idea of tiny mysteries and each mystery that lands in her lap help propel the plot forward. She’s surrounded by a colorful group of characters and the action keeps moving at a good pace. There is bootlegging, gun-running, arson, assault, kidnapping, police corruption, and the odd murder.

I enjoyed the book, especially the first 2/3rds or so. I loved Gilda and her friends. Even the potential enemies are interesting. The last section went a little awry for me. The action was good, but the fantasy part of the plot got a little wonky. There didn’t seem to be any real rules to the world and no real explanation. I can let it go because the book was engrossing, but I’m hoping the second in the series holds together a bit better.

About W.M. Akers

W.M. Akers is a novelist, playwright, editor, game designer, copywriter and, well, just about any other kind of writer you might require. He is the author of Westside and Westside Saints, the creator of Deadball: Baseball With Dice and Comrades: A Revolution RPG, and too many plays to mention here. He is also responsible for Strange Times, a weekly newsletter that investigates the weirdest news 1921 has to offer. His contact information is below. If you wish to receive occasional updates on his work, you may subscribe to his informational newsletter here.

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