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Book Author: Will Thomas

HEART OF THE NILE by Will Thomas: Book Review

The story of Cleopatra never grows stale.  As Shakespeare put it, “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.”  More than two millennia later, her lure is evident in Will Thomas’ latest mystery, Heart of the Nile.

Phillip Addison, a young schoolteacher working evenings at the British Museum in the hope of being offered a staff position, is cataloguing recent additions to the museum’s extensive mummy collection.  One of the mummies seems unusually heavy, and he realizes there is something hidden in the skeleton.

After much effort Addison is able to dislodge the object, which is a glowing red stone in the shape of a human heart.  Unsure of what to do with it and fearful of leaving it unguarded in the museum, he takes it with him and goes to the house of his supervisor, the head of the Egyptology Department, Dr. Hennings, to tell him of his discovery.

The following morning Elizabeth Addison, Phillip’s wife, comes to the office of Barker & Llewelyn, private enquiry agents in London.  She tells Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn that her husband left for work the previous evening but never returned home.  The couple is virtually alone in the world, and she is desperate to find him.

Barker and Llewelyn agree to look for Addison, and they begin their inquiries with Dr. Hennings.  He tells them that Addison had arrived at his house at 1:00 a.m., saying “he’d made a great discovery….It concerned a mummy that had been in collection for years.”  Hennings said he’d investigate the discovery in the morning and sent Addison away and that that was the last time he’d seen him.

Reluctantly, Hennings leads the two agents to the mummy in question, and upon close examination Llewelyn recognizes the cartouche, or pendant, as having the name Cleopatra written on it.  The Egyptologist downplays the importance of the cartouche but admits that there is a possibility that the young schoolteacher had found the mummy of the great queen.

Barker and Llewelyn next visit Liam Grant, a friend of both Llewelyn’s and Addison’s.  Grant tells them of the jewel that Addison had pressed upon him the previous night, shortly before Addison went to Hennings’ house, and Grant gladly gives it to Barker, delighted to be relieved of it.

Shortly after that Cyrus and Thomas receive a note that instructs them to go to the waterfront; there they sees the body of Phillip Addison, but he was stabbed, not drowned.  Sadly, Thomas informs Mrs. Addison of her husband’s death, and although they are no longer searching for Addison, they vow to continue investigating until they discover who murdered him.

Reading a novel by Will Thomas is stepping back into the 19th century.  The brusque Cyrus Barker and the more sensitive Thomas Llewelyn make a formidable pair, determined to find the murderer and try to bring some comfort to Phillip’s widow.  As always, a Will Thomas mystery is a delight.

You can read more about the author at various sites on the web.

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


FIERCE POISON by Will Thomas: Book Review

When a man enters the Barker and Llewelyn Agency early one morning, it’s the beginning of the most bizarre case that the private inquiry agents have handled.  Also the most dangerous.

The man stumbles as he entered the office, asking for some water in a rough voice and then trying unsuccessfully to continue speaking.  “Help me…please” is all he is able to say before he falls to the floor and dies.

The man’s calling card, which he had handed to the butler, gives his name and position as Roland Fitzhugh, Liberal Member of Parliament.  Despite his being unknown to either Cyrus Barker or Thomas Llewelyn, Barker insists they are obligated to investigate the death because he asked for their assistance in his last moments.

When Inspector Poole of Scotland Yard arrives at the Agency, he tells Barker and Llewelyn that Fitzhugh had come to the Yard earlier that morning, saying he believed he had been poisoned, and Poole told him he would look into it.  Now both the police and the private investigators are searching for the culprit.

An autopsy reveals that Fitzhugh had been poisoned by a raspberry tart he apparently had eaten just before entering Poole’s office.  Llewelyn then remembers that a young boy had been offering free samples of tarts that morning in front of their building, and the police begin a search for him.

Then, in the middle of the night, Thomas and Cyrus are awakened by a constable from the Yard and ordered to an East End address.  When they arrive Poole is there, overseeing a tragic scene.  An entire family, except for an infant, has been poisoned.  Mother, father, and two sons are dead, and one of the boys is the young peddler who had been giving out the tarts in front of the Agency.

As the private investigators delve more deeply into Fitzhugh’s past, they discover some disquieting things.  He was a widower, so why did he keep a photo of his late wife hidden in another object on his mantle?  He was engaged, but did he steal the affections of his fiancée away from his partner, Edward Lindsay?  And why did he seemingly have no friends or close colleagues in Parliament?

This novel, the thirteenth mystery in the Barker and Llewelyn series, takes readers back to Victorian England with its strict moral codes and their consequences.  Women of all classes were dominated by their fathers until they married and by their husbands afterwards.  In the eyes of the law (prior to 1882), once a woman married she basically ceased to exist.  On her wedding day she became one person with her husband, and thereafter everything she did was under his control.  Wives had no protection under the law; they lost ownership of their wages, their physical property (excluding land property), and their money.  We can see the devastating results of these practices in Fierce Poison.

Will Thomas has written another outstanding historical mystery.   You can read more about him at various sites on the web.

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

DANCE WITH DEATH by Will Thomas: Book Review

Will Thomas takes readers back to the days when British royalty, in the name of Queen Victoria, rules twenty-five percent of the world.  Not only was her word law in Canada, Australia, India, and Ireland among other countries, but her word apparently was law within her extended family as well.

Her desire to have her favorite granddaughter, Princess Alix of Hesse, married to the future tsar of Russia, Nicolas, is the story behind the story in Dance With Death.

The private enquiry agents, Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn, are approached by Jim Hercules, an American Negro (the preferred term for African-Americans more than a hundred years ago) to protect his employer, the tsarevich Nicolas.  The young heir is on a visit to England to attend the wedding of his cousin George, and Jim believes that his life is in danger from several sources.

Jim tells Cyrus and Thomas that many members of Nicolas’ own family are concerned about his ascending to the throne, which may be sooner rather than later given the ill health of his father, and they may be willing to take steps to make certain that this doesn’t happen.

Also opposing Nicolas are members of various anti-royalty groups including Socialists, Communists, and anarchists, all of whom are protesting the lavish wedding of Prince George as well as the state visit of the tsarevich.  Leading the protests is Eleanor Marx, daughter of the famous or infamous Karl Marx, depending on your political point of  view.

In addition, Nicolas tells the detectives about his mistress, the young ballet dancer Mathilde Kschessinka. When Llewelyn presents himself to her, pretending to be an emissary from the tsarevich, Mathilde informs him that she has determined that Nicolas will marry her, not Princess Alix, despite the fact that she is a commoner.  “I shall shoot us both if I cannot have him….He is my Nicky, or he is no one else’s,” Mathilde tells Thomas.

Throughout all this, Nicolas remains oblivious to these threats against him.  It’s Cyrus and Thomas’ job to protect him without letting him know of the dangers he faces.

Will Thomas has a gift for combining the characters of his imagination with the historic characters of the end of the nineteenth century.  Cyrus Barker, Thomas Llewelyn, and Jim Hercules are as “real” to a reader as Queen Victoria, Nicolas, and Mathilde Kschessinka.

The author makes all the emotions and actions understandable, even though they may seem strange to us.  The queen’s insistence that her granddaughter marry Nicolas, even though that would mean Princess Alix would have to convert to Russian Orthodoxy against her will; Nicolas’ unwillingness to face the opposition to his becoming tsar; Mathilde’s obsession to be the tsarina, even though she is a commoner–all these true-life events played a part in the history of the nineteenth century as well as in the book.

Will Thomas has written another fascinating chapter in the lives of Barker and Llewelyn.  You can read more about him at this website.

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.


LETHAL PURSUIT by Will Thomas: Book Review

In the last decade of the 19th century, enquiry agents were relatively unknown.  That was the English name for private detectives, and even today it sounds more genteel than “private eyes.”  But whether they were called enquiry agents or private investigators, their jobs were the same:  finding missing persons, acting as bodyguards, thwarting blackmailers.  But whenever the team of Barker and Llewelyn takes a case, it always becomes more dangerous or more obscure than the usual ones.

The novel opens with a man who believes he has been followed from Germany to London because of the precious package he has been given.  Skillful as he is, ultimately he cannot evade his pursuers, and he is stabbed in the middle of a busy London street mere steps away from his destination.  Moments from death, he enjoys the expressions on his attackers’ faces when they open the suitcase he’s been carrying and discovers that it’s filled, not with the priceless item they thought was inside, but with socks, socks, socks.

A small package is delivered to the office of enquiry agents Cyrus Barker and Thomas Lllewelyn, and when Barker opens it he finds a small key with the letter Q stamped on it.  Although Llewelyn is in the dark as to what it is or what it means, Barker appears to understand; the two of them leave their office, walk a few blocks, and enter a building that also has a Q on it.

They are led to the office of the Prime Minister who reluctantly informs them of the death of an agent in His Majesty’s Foreign Office, a man who had been trusted with something of incredible value.  To mislead the killers and the government that hired them, Cyrus and Thomas are asked to bring a satchel to France that will then be delivered by others to The Vatican. 

When Cyrus professes to be incredulous as to why they were picked for this job when the Prime Minister could have chosen envoys from any branch of the royal government, he is told “you would not be an agency our government would naturally choose….Your methods are considered unorthodox, haphazard, and impulsive.  Most of your cases end in bloodshed.”

Despite this statement, or perhaps because of it, Barker agrees to take the parcel and its unknown contents across the channel.  The two men leave the Prime Minister’s office and bring the parcel directly to Barker’s bank.  But, of course, that is only the beginning of the adventure.

This the eleventh novel in the Barker and Llewelyn series and has moved from the 1880s to the early 1890s.  The characters have moved with the times, Thomas having started out as an apprentice to Barker but is now is his partner.  However, Thomas is still a “junior” partner, as the vastly more experienced Barker continues to make most of the decisions.  But change is definitely in the wind.

And while Cyrus Barker remains a bachelor, the younger Thomas Llewelyn is a newlywed whose wife is a beautiful widow; she has been pushed out of the tight Orthodox Jewish community in Londaon for her marriage to Thomas, a gentile.

You can read more about Will Thomas at this website.

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.

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.