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Book Author: Will Thomas

HELL BAY by Will Thomas: Book Review

Someone is killing the people at a dinner party at Godolphin House, a manor located on a remote family-owned island off the southwest corner of England.  Deaths by rifle shot, knife, explosion–but why?

The owner of the island, Lord Hargrave, arrives at the office of Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn, private enquiry agents in London.  Hargrave and his wife will be hosting this party with a dual purpose; he wants to come to a diplomatic agreement with Henri Gascoigne, the French ambassador, concerning colonies in Africa; she is hoping to find suitable matches for their older son and their only daughter.  The nobleman wants the agents to guard Gascoigne, and Cyrus, the senior member of the firm, reluctantly agrees.

Everything appears to be going smoothly at the house until the first murder.  Lord Hargrave himself is the victim, shot after dinner while surrounded by several of his guests in the garden.  Of course everyone is horrified, and Ambassador Gascoigne insists he needs his own bodyguard, who has remained on board the boat that brought the ambassador to the island, to protect him.  When Cyrus and Thomas rush to the harbor to bring Delacroix back to the house, however, the boat is gone and his body is floating in the water.

Thus begins a terrifying ordeal for those left in Godolphin House.  In addition to the two investigators and the ambassador, Lady Hargrave and her three children, Colonel Fraser and his wife, Doctor Anstruther and his two daughters, a businessman and his valet from South America, and Philippa Ashleigh, Cyrus Barker’s particular friend, are present.  And, naturally, the servants—fifteen of them.

In fact, two killings occur even before Cyrus and Thomas arrive at the island.  The head of a boarding school on the mainland is shot as he calls out the window to one of his students; the woman who ran a foster home is found in her yard with a broken neck.  These two deaths, seemingly unrelated to each other or to the island, are actually just the beginning of the murderous spree that will follow.

Hell Bay is narrated by young Thomas, Cyrus’ assistant.  He is in awe of his employer and cannot shake the feeling that he will never have the insights that the latter has.  He’s anxious to appear more sophisticated and worldly than he actually is and desperate to absorb knowledge from his mentor.  But Cyrus refuses to coddle him, saying “If I spoon-feed you the answers, however shall you learn?”

Hell Bay is the eighth mystery in Will Thomas’ Barker and Llewelyn series, set at the end of the nineteenth century.  Each one of his novels sets a perfect scene that will draw you into a period well worth visiting.

You can read more about Will Thomas at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

ANATOMY OF EVIL by Will Thomas: Book Review

There’s a new profession in 19th-century London, that of private enquiry agent.  Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, have been very successful solving crimes that the police do not have the time to deal with or cannot clear up.  Cyrus and Thomas previously worked with Scotland Yard, but a rift had grown between the official agents of the law and the non-official, so the two men are extremely surprised when they are approached by Robert Anderson, England’s spymaster general and assistant commissioner at the Yard.

Robert is ill and is being forced to take a medical sabbatical by his wife and his doctor.  He wants his interests safeguarded while he’s gone and asks Cyrus, an old friend, to take a temporary position at Scotland Yard to help the force on a very delicate matter.

There have been two brutal murders in the East End of the city.  Two prostitutes, or “unfortunates” as they were also called at the time, were strangled and had their throats cut.  Although murders in that part of the city are not uncommon, and murders of prostitutes even less so, the horrific nature of these crimes has been noted, and there is fear among the police that they have a serial murderer on their hands.

Cyrus and Thomas agree to take the case, understanding that there will be considerable resentment on the part of most of the Yard’s detectives.  Nevertheless, the two continue to search for the knife-wielding killer, treading softly so as not to unduly antagonize those who are hoping and anticipating that they will fail, either because they are private detectives or because they are known to be friends of Robert Anderson, who has made his own enemies on the force.

The East End of London is where newly-arrived immigrants and other outsiders settle.  Israel Zangwill, an actual historical journalist and writer, is portrayed in the novel as a friend of Thomas’s, and one of Israel’s fears is that the Jewish community will be blamed for the murders.  In fact, the three main suspects the police officials are investigating are Polish Jews newly arrived in London.

At first Thomas thinks that given the manpower of the government, finding the murderer will be an easy matter.  But Cyrus is not so sure.  “I suspect several more women will be killed before this case is over,” he states, and of course he will be proven right.

One of the things that makes Anatomy of Evil so interesting is the well-known fact that the man who became known as Jack the Ripper has never been positively identified.  Dozens of men were considered as possibilities, but in the years before DNA testing and fingerprinting, no proof to convict an individual was ever found.  So how will this novel end?  Will the ending be satisfying?

I won’t answer the first question, but the answer to the second is yes.  Through the clever writing of Will Thomas, we are led to discover the killer as well as the reason that his identity was never made public.  Anatomy of Evil is a tour de force that is very satisfactory indeed.

You can read more about Will Thomas at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.