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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.






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