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?