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Posts Tagged ‘19th-century London’

A TALE OF TWO MURDERS by Heather Redmond: Book Review

Before Charles Dickens was a world-renowned novelist, he was a young journalist working in London.  Determined not to live the life his father led, with two terms of confinement in debtors’ prisons, Charles was working hard and determined to make his mark in society.

As A Tale of Two Murders opens, it is 1835 and Charles has been invited for dinner at the home of his employer, the Evening Chronicle‘s co-editor.  This marks the first time he meets Catherine (Kate) Hogarth, the oldest daughter in the family, and he is immediately smitten by her looks and personality.

Their dinner is interrupted by several screams that seem to come from the neighboring house, which belongs to the family of the late Lord Lugoson.  Dickens, Kate, and Mr. Hogarth walk over to investigate and come upon a strange scene–about a dozen people, including several servants, are standing aimlessly in a room while in front of the fireplace lies a young girl apparently coming out of a fainting episode.

Lady Lugoson’s guests seem unable to cope with the situation, so Charles, Kate, and Mr. Hogarth assist the hostess in getting the young woman, who is her daughter Christiana, to her bedroom.  Various physicians are called in throughout the night, but in the early hours of the next morning she dies a painful death.

When Charles go the Chronicle’s office later that morning and tells fellow reporter William Aga about the tragedy, he hears a strange story.  William tells Charles that he knows of an almost identical episode that took place on the same date, January 6th, a year earlier.  A young woman, the same age as Miss Lugoson, was also stricken and died the following day.  The symptoms that the two girls experienced sound identical to both men.

Intrigued and upset by William’s story and the suffering that he witnessed, Charles begins an investigation into the deaths of the two girls.  In addition to his curiosity, he has an added inducement to follow the story–Kate has been given permission by her father to join Dickens in his quest, and she is more than eager to break out of her routine and help.

In A Tale of Two Murders, it appears that in his early twenties Dickens had no inclination or desire to become a novelist.  Instead, he saw himself as a reporter and possible playwright.  We know that the successes of The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, and A Tale of Two Cities lie ahead of him, and it’s delightful to read about his life prior to that.

Heather Redmond (a pseudonym) has succeeded in bringing not only Dickens to life but the times he lived in as well.  Her descriptions of society’s manners, dining habits, clothing, and mores make A Tale of Two Murders a fascinating story.

You can read more about Heather Redmond’s new historical mystery at various internet sites.  Since Dickens wrote 15 novels, readers of A Tale of Two Murders perhaps may look forward to more novels in this series.  A Christmas Carnage or Murderous Expectations?

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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.