- Author: Carol Hedges
- Published: August 2017 by Little G Books
- Category: Historical Fiction, Victorian, Crime, Book Review, Books, Reading
1864 marks the arrival of a brand new department store right in the shopping heart of Oxford Street. What owner John Gould does not expect, is the presence of a dead man in one of his display windows. How did he get there? And why has Gould’s store been picked out as a murder location?
Meanwhile Sir Hugh and Lady Meriel Wynward are not expecting to hear from their daughter Sybella, who died in a railway accident two years ago. So when a letter written in her hand arrives unexpectedly, on what would have been her eighteenth birthday, it throws them into turmoil. What is going on?
The year is 1864. London is blanketed in the fog rising from the river, but that isn’t bothering Mr John Gould in the least. He is taking one last turn around his brand new store before the grand opening the following day. The much awaited celebration doesn’t, unfortunately for Mr Gould, exactly unfold as expected. As the window shutters are removed, the last revealing a mock-up of a dining room showing all the associated goods available in store, the reaction of the gathered crowd is not what Mr Gould was anticipating.
Gould is very proud of this particular display. Three shop assistants laboured all day under the direction of the window dresser to set it up. Gould wanted it to convey that here is a genteel upmarket family emporium catering to the ‘right’ sort of customer.
The last thing Mr Gould expected to see was the very dead body of a man sitting at the table, with blood staining the pristine table linen.
So begins another wonderful addition to the Victorian Detectives series, written brilliantly by Carol Hedges. Detective Inspector Leo Stride and Detective Sergeant Jack Cully are back, investigating several seemingly unconnected and complex storylines in their own inimitable fashion. Aside from the murder, Stride is summoned to Lord Wynward’s residence with regard to a communication, supposedly from the daughter who died a year previously.
An important part of the narrative is London, a character in its own right. On one hand we have the great thoroughfares, parks and exclusive residential areas, contrasting strongly with the seedy, dark alleys, beggars, street children and slums of the less fortunate, described in vivid and atmospheric detail.
Dawn arrives, remaking the city anew. Fog rests in the morning streets. It renders everything limp, like the belly of a dead fish, slippery and wet. Roofs have a sliver sheen. Cobbles are slick and sticky underfoot. Dampness pervades everything; the grey walls of buildings consuming light, birthing rot. Lines of mildew run green tracks along everything.
Carol Hedges is adept at creating a comprehensive and evocative flavour of Victorian London and often dire circumstances of the poorer classes. The story is peopled with well-rounded and wonderfully named characters, all of whom are compelling, tragic, wicked and amusing in their own right. I enjoyed the entertaining dialogue between Stride and his adversary, the aptly named Rancid Cretney. And it was lovely to see the return of several characters from previous books, adding to their story lines. The intricate plot threads merge seamlessly as the crimes are resolved and the engaging present tense writing serves to keep up the momentum and involve the reader directly. I love this series (and the new covers!) Long may it continue.