After falling in love with Jane Steele and its author, Lyndsay Faye, I've been reading The Gods of Gotham, the first in Faye's three-book series. It's soooo good! I don't talk about every mystery book I read here at Dead Guy, but I have to talk about this one because it's kinda meta. It's a mystery novel that takes place in 1845 in New York City. The protagonist, Timothy Wilde, is a member of the newly-formed NYPD.
Pause for a second here to contemplate the idea of New York City without a police force. Apparently, in the pre-1845 era, there were watchmen and guards and things, but the New York Police Department didn't exist. And when it was formed, it didn't really know exactly what its job was, or how to do that job. It had no automatic authority. The "copper stars" on the force were in fact widely mocked and disrespected.
(The Oxford English Dictionary has the first use of copper to mean police officer in 1846, probably from copperstick; it has the first use of cop in 1859 and says its origin is American. According to the the Grammarphobia Blog, the word cop doesn't come from the stars, but from the verb form of cop.)
So, this is a detective novel that takes place at the birth of the idea of the detective. I researched the history of detective fiction in an earlier post, but it didn't occur to me to think about the history of actual detecting. Faye's protagonist, a former barkeep, has an attention to small details akin to Sherlock Holmes's, and he's able to use his skills to solve crimes; in reward (spoiler alert), he's promoted at the end of the novel from plain old cop to a new kind of profession, one we readers know as "detective," but he doesn't yet.
I'm looking forward to the next book in the series, Seven for a Secret.