Arrowood and the Meeting House Murders by Mick Finlay -an historical mystery thriller set in late Victorian London

Arrowood and the Meeting House Murders by Mick Finlay

It is a bitter winter in 1896 and a cold and brutal time in London for William Arrowood for this fourth murder mystery. As ever, the story is narrated by the faithful, resourceful and loyal Norman Barnett, whose insight into the situations they face may not be as incisive as “the guvnor”, but who is very useful in a fight.  As in the previous books, this is not genteel Victorian life and subtle criminal enquiries, but a dirty and basic city where women, men and children had very little, and survival was often the only priority. Some lived a little better, with money for treats and at Christmas time, outings. This is the setting for the job that Arrowood has taken on, to earn a few shillings. Two women and two babies live with him in a tangle of relationships resulting from the events as recorded in the previous novels, and there are other friendships and obligations that overlap into this book. It definitely works as a standalone book, with self-contained themes and events that make the most of the settings and memorable characters. I really enjoyed this book and was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

This novel revolves around the arrival in London of a group of African travellers. They have been apparently brought by a showman, Bruno Capaldi, to become exhibits in his show of Wonders alongside other human curiosities. They have escaped from his control and are hiding in a Quaker Meeting House, where they have sought sanctuary. Mr Fowler, a leading Quaker, is concerned that they are in danger of discovery, and hires Arrowood and Barnett to guard them. Only one of the group speaks any English, and it becomes apparent that they are concealing secrets. When an attack happens, Detective Inspector Napper is brought in, and despite the publicity surrounding the murders, he is forced to ask Arrowood for help in discovering what is really going on. Arrowood agrees with the prospect of reward as well as concern for the people who are apparently adrift in a dangerous city. He is also mindful of his need to help support his wife Isabel and sister Ettie, especially when their babies become ill. Being a Private Investigator will call on all his skills as an investigator, as well as encountering the sheer physical challenges of London life.

As ever this book is vivid and full of detail, an immersive read of realistic characters who are introduced and maintained with careful detail. There is an immense amount of research behind this book in order to make the streets of London come so alive, and there is real skill in blending in all the details so they become natural. There is real depth to this novel, as alongside the main mystery there are subplots of Arrowood’s complicated family arrangements and Barnett’s own feelings, as well as other friends such as Lewis and Willoughby. This book also poses questions of the nature of Britain’s colonial behaviour and what happens when those native people affected rebel or come to Britain. I found it offered fascinating insights into a world where people with visible differences were put on display, and the effects that would have. This novel opens a world of realities of late Victorian life that are not always the subject of historical fiction. I recommend this book, and indeed others from the series, as gripping and enthralling novels of London life and rewarding mysteries.   

Arrowood and the Thames Corpses by Mick Finlay a historical murder mystery with added peril

A historical murder mystery set in the filthy streets and habitations of London in 1896, full of a dark humour and a quiet feud with Sherlock Holmes, this novel has much to recommend it. Despite historic levels of dirt and flies, the characters in this novel jump off the page in all their vivid life, emotions and individualism whether street child or tourist. It is narrated by the faithful Barnett, helper, supporter and occasional bodyguard to the unique William Arrowood, “the guvnor”, private detective and investigator. These are not the polite, intellectual adventures as described by Watson, but rather the dirty and dangerous investigating amongst London’s poorest for twenty shillings a day. Of course money is not Arrowood’s only motive for his daily actions; once committed to a case he finds it difficult to let go. This the third book by this skilful author in the series, but it works well as a standalone novel as the characters involved soon become evident. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this detailed and memorable book.

This book opens with two people seeking the help of the detective to stop a campaign of damage on their pleasure steamer. Having negotiated a price, the two men become involved in the fate of Captain Moon and Susie. A rather shocking discovery following an arson attempt suggests that there is more than just a right to the routes at stake. The terrible find attracts the involvement of the police, including a new detective who is very ambitious. Both William and Barnett have difficult and overcrowded rooms in which to live, and both are in urgent need of funds, especially as William has family difficulties. Their investigations take a terrible turn, and they believe that there is real danger even if they are no longer working for money. Both men find that the more they investigate, using some fairly cunning deceits, the more danger they are in, even losing their liberty. As domestic difficulties become more pressing, they are forced into ever more complicated actions. The discovery of a past tragedy gives some clues to present difficulties, they use their skills to prevent more death. 

This book really revels in the small details of street food, the cost of drinks, and the sheer reality of living in one of the poorest parts of London. Children swarm around anything interesting, being either abandoned or ignored. Women have few if any options, with children, addiction to gin and other challenges on a daily basis. Despite the dirt, rodents and other terrors of the streets, there are some strong characters who have real affection and loyalty to the others. There is also some humour, especially in some aspects of William’s behaviour and his antipathy towards Holmes, an in joke for fans of historical murder. There is evidence of a vast amount of research into the social history of the turn of the century London, but historical facts never get in the way of a strong story which works on several levels. The psychological elements of the investigations are well observed; as Barnett comments when in a very tricky situation, the emotions of others can affect one’s own view. This is a memorable, well paced and impressively written book, with much to recommend it, especially to fans of historical mysteries with a realistic  edge.

A second post today! that is because I am hosting two blog tours, when various people post about a book in turn. I have reviewed two very different books today, but both present very interesting views of life in their own way. What do you think?