Monday, April 7, 2008

A new game is afoot!


For purely selfish reasons, I am always interested when someone comes out with a new mystery novel set in London around 1888. Basically, I'm curious as to what worked for them and what didn't and, of course, if they do it better than I am!

This is the first in a series of books by Will Thomas starring his 'enquiry agent' Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn. Much of this first book is taken up by the introduction of both Llewelyn and Barker as well as their setting and Barker's many eccentricities. Llewelyn, poor and on the verge of throwing himself into the Thames, answers an ad for an assistant and, after several trials of mind and body, is hired to replace a previous assistant now, unfortunately, deceased.

As expected, a case quickly comes Barker's way when a young Jewish man is found crucified in an street in London's East End. Barker is hired by the Chief Rabbi and sets out to find if the murdered man had died for personal reasons or if he was the first victim of a new Pogrom against the Jews. Along the way, much danger happens and Lewelyn wonders if he was smart in accepting his new job.

With the first book of a series, one expects the writer to take some time to set up the characters and setting. The problem is that this part is actually more interesting than the mystery! I wanted to learn more about Barker's life and adventures than their current case. Thomas' writing is nice and crisp and moves along at a fast pace. Perhaps too quickly as many of the incidental characters tend to merge into each other and it sometimes becomes difficult to remember who is whom. The scenes involving the Jewish people are well-written and knowledgeable and Thomas manages to convey some of the pervading anti-semitism of 1880's East End London.

The characters of Barker and Llewelyn are well drawn and, as to be expected, stand out. The only failing of Barker is that he has a Sherlock Holmesian/super-human quality about him. It seems that there is nothing this man cannot do, a language or culture he is not intimately familiar with or any target he cannot shoot! Hopefully Barker becomes more human in later stories and loses some of his super-powers. Llewelyn is the most realistic of the lot and is a fine choice as narrator of the story.

If there's a failing of this book, it's that the ending came much faster than I expected it to. After so much of a build-up, I thought that the climax would last longer. It certainly was exciting, though, despite the fact that it causes us to lose one of the cast at the end (not Llewelyn!) that I had grown rather fond of.

Overall, this was a good tale and one that would make a good episode of the old PBS show, MYSTERY! I recommend it for fans of Sherlock Holmes or Victorian 'pulp fiction.

One a scale of one to ten (one being lowest, ten being highest), I give SOME DANGER INVOLVED a solid SEVEN and look forward to reading the other books in the series.

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