Westside by W.M. Akers

Posted On 23 May 2019

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WestsideAs soon as I saw Westside I had to have it – put simply, it called out to me – mystery, history, fantasy, all rolled into one.  Hell yes.  And, within the first few pages it had captured my imagination. I was hooked, and in a nutshell I just adored it.  The writing was superb and I fell in love with the main character.  A debut, a standalone novel and an author that I will definitely keep an eye on.

Westside is a fascinating and dangerous place to live.  Here we hark back to New York during the 1920’s.  A time of prohibition, bootlegging and gangs except of course this is a different New York almost like a parallel universe or a place where at a certain point history took an alternate direction.  In this version a strange affliction seems to have overcome Westside.  Shadows take on a life of their own after the sun sets and people mysteriously disappear.   Things in fact deteriorated so badly at one point that a huge barrier was erected to try and prevent the ‘phenomena’ spreading to the more prosperous East.

As the story begins we meet Gilda Carr, a detective who specialises in tiny mysteries.  She’s been contacted by a Mrs Copeland, from the Eastside, who is missing a small, leather glove and is keen to have it recovered.  Gilda takes the case, expecting it to be fairly easy, little does she know that her life is going to be thrown into turmoil.  There is a much bigger mystery surrounding Westside and the darkness that permeates its streets and the mystery of the missing glove are all connected.

What I really loved first and foremost about Westside is the imagination.  Akers has taken a familiar setting and given it a whole new twist.  Whilst the Eastside is forging ahead into a modern age the darkness on the Westside seems to corrode and corrupt whatever it touches seemingly rolling back the years and giving the area a different feel from its more affluent neighbour.  Residents disappear, homes stand empty, modern inventions simply don’t work and yet the people who remain stubbornly cling to their homes, determined to remain in their own neighbourhoods even if their family, friends and belongings are simply vanishing around them.  Westside is a place where people don’t go out at night – and it’s not because they’re frightened of pickpockets or thugs – they’re scared of blinking out of existence.  What happens to them – where do they go – I was beyond intrigued.

There is also of course the mystery that takes on a life of its very own.  Starting as a small thing of very little consequence it grows unexpectedly into a riotous and sprawling mass that takes us down secret tunnels, uncovering coincidentals that twist the mystery even further – again, I was captivated.

On top of this there’s the ‘feel’ of the place.  Westside is dark and dangerous.  The characters who still live there are tough and violence and gangs are rife.  Law enforcement is practically non-existent and in fact the residents police themselves for the most part.  This is a place with a history that runs deep with grudges and secrets just waiting to be shared.  It also has a seedy underworld at its core that threatens violence and more often than not delivers.  This is a bloody story and no prisoners are taken so be warned.

Gilda is a great character.  Her father was a detective with a larger than life reputation who also fell victim to the ‘shadows’.  Gilda has never got over the loss and in fact a large part of her story revolves around denial and avoidance which is why the mystery she takes on threatens to unravel everything she holds dear, including her own sanity.  She’s one tough cookie with a rather bad ass reputation herself.  To be honest, she sometimes makes it difficult to like her with her hardened exterior and yet I did like her, very much so.  I loved her determination to see through a job that became scary in the extreme.  I love some of the friendships and ties that she held dear and I didn’t want the shadows to catch her up – so there it is – fear for a main character, or more to the point fear that the author will kill them off – could there be a truer test of whether a character has grown on you or not.

I can’t really tell you much more without stepping out of the dark and shining a light on spoilers and I’m not going to do that.

This is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed.  It’s wonderfully dark and enticing and yet at the same time deceptively endearing.  At its heart it’s a coming of age story really.  Here is a young woman who has lost her family and now stands on the edge of losing everything else and yet in spite of the threat she still wants answers.  You can’t help but feel for her has she plows through the unknown in this twisting story of self discovery.

In terms of criticisms – I don’t have any.  However, I realise that some readers might find this too heavy in terms of the speculative aspects.  This is a historical mystery but it relies heavily on the fantasy elements.  I didn’t find the final reveals odd or bizarre but I’m not sure if I’m the best judge of that or not because I do also like the ‘odd and bizarre’ so my tolerance levels might be higher in that respect.  I don’t really like comparisons but I perhaps would agree with the likeness to Neil Gaiman that was used in the original blurb, almost think Neverwhere (although a bit more brutal here imo) meets Gangs of New York set in a parallel universe that is being devoured by dark shadows. Simples.

I realise this is a bit rambling but that quite often happens to my reviews when I really enjoy a book, I become slightly incoherent and meander as I hop from thought to thought.  All I can say in my defence is that I thoroughly enjoyed this and recommend it to dark fantasy/urban fantasy lovers.

I received a copy through Edelweiss, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.




Wyrd and Wonder: Stunning Debut : Westside by WM Akers


(May is the month of Wyrd and Wonder – details here, Twitter: @wyrdandwonder)

The month of May is full of Wyrd and Wonder and today’s prompt is ‘Stunning Debut’.

I’ve just finished reading Westside by WM Akers and I absolutely loved it, my review isn’t posted yet but I wanted to share the love of this book with everyone and today’s prompt is the perfect opportunity.  This is a story that marries mystery, urban fantasy and 1920’s prohibition New York.  The setting is a divided city and the atmosphere is reminiscent of Gangs of New York.  It gave me a Gaiman/Lynch vibe in the portrayal of other worldliness and the criminal underworld.  A definite 5 out of 5 star read for me.

WestsideHere’s the synopsis and 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—that blends the vivid atmosphere of Caleb Carr with the imaginative power of Neil Gaiman.

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.