Note: Even though this is Book 2 in the series, it works just fine as a stand alone novel.
Set in Victorian England, Captain William Avery has made his way to London (leaving a pregnant wife behind in the countryside) to meet up with his former colleague Jeremiah Blake, who he befriended in India. Both are tasked by the Viscount Allington to look into the gruesome murder of a printer of questionable materials. As they dig into the matter, they discover the police reluctant to investigate and the locals are even less likely to talk to them about the incident. However, as more bodies pile up, the clues do as well.
This was the book I needed that I didn’t know I needed. It’s like finding out that your tongue and tummy really do want a curry when prior to actually putting curry in your mouth, you didn’t know you wanted it. When I started this book, I was a bit intrigued, yes, but not particularly excited. Then as I dug into it, I realized that this was indeed something special.
First off, I really like the chemistry between Blake and Avery. Blake has a shady past that we learn a little bit about as the story unfolds while Avery comes from a well-to-do family and has orbited all the right groups to stay respectable. Blake can definitely relate to many of the characters we meet as they investigate the murder of the printer. However, Avery has to set aside so many of his preconceived notions in order to wrap his head around the facts. Despite their social differences, there’s a deep respect between the two men and that friendship is one of the key things that keeps them alive.
I was half expecting a kind of stuffy English murder mystery where we might get 1 gruesome scene and then then a lot of innuendos about the seedier side of life. Thankfully, the author gives us more than that. I really appreciated that she didn’t sanitize the 1841 London: there’s cess pits, prostitutes, corrupt police, and pornographic printed materials. This made the story more real for me.
Then there’s some small references to advancements made in the time period. For example, the blue-coated ‘New Police’ are out in force. They’ve been established for at least a few years at this time, but not long enough for the locals to really appreciate them. Also, Avery is running around with one of the new fountain pens, so he doesn’t need an ink well to write down his thoughts. These little touches gave the book an educational feel to add to all the adventure and mystery.
There’s several side characters that were pretty interesting. For me, Mattie was the highlight. She works selling cheap vegetables and herbs out of her basket and running odd errands for the various shopkeepers along her road. She and her brother were orphaned when their parents died, though she did learn to read and write before then. She’s working hard to keep a place for the two of them, without becoming a prostitute. However, her brother has gotten into a bit of trouble and that comes into play later in the book. Captain Avery found her fascinating, mostly because he had such warring emotions concerning her life. It was very interesting to watch how her mere existence challenged so many of Avery’s notions of poor people and what their lives are like.
The mystery element was pretty entertaining as well. It looks a bit simple at first, but then gets more complicated. The various printers in the area are competitive. Then each has their private well-to-do customers who usually want some questionable reading materials. On top of that, there’s a large chunk of poor folks in London that are demanding the right to have a vote, specifically concerning certain grain taxes. Of course, our dear skeptical Blake wonders why Viscount Allington is interested in the case at all. Lots of strings for our investigating duo to pull.
Over all, I found this book gripping on several fronts. I really enjoyed Blake’s ability to blend in and Avery’s discomfort at being asked to do so as well. The side characters are lively and have their own agendas. The mystery was not nearly as straight forward as it seemed. I was thoroughly entertained by this one!
I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher (viaLibraryThing) in exchange for an honest review.
Narration: Alex Wyndham was a great pick for this book. He had this great voice for Blake that was a bit gravelly and usually held a note of skepticism. I also liked his polite gentleman voice for Captain Avery. His female voices were well done as well, sounding feminine. He had a variety of English accents to help us all keep the characters straight.