This guy know his stuff! This is the third in the series about the likeable double act of Victorian detectives and a good belting read it is too. A gripping historical crime novel even though we may feel we’re Victorianed out!
William Arrowood, London’s Victorian second level private investigator is a less than salubrious person who, again, is down on his luck when Captain Moon and his daughter Suzie turn up asking for help. Moon is the owner of a pleasure steamer on the Thames and complains that someone has been damaging his boat, putting his business in jeopardy.
Arrowood and his trusty sidekick Barnett suspect professional jealousy, but when a gruesome discovery is pulled from the river by their boat it seems like even fouler play is afoot. It’s up to them to unravel the case before any more corpses end up in the watery depths.
The author has a fascinating past. Born in Glasgow and now in Brighton, via Canada and London he has previously been a market stall holder in Portobello Road, a tent hand in a travelling circus, a butcher’s boy, hotel porter, NHS worker and now an academic in a psychology department and author of course.
He’s usedots of those areas as sources for the tale. He mentions Henry Mayhew’s ‘London Labour and the London Poor’ which I remember reading as a student. Here we are centred around the Thames, it’s canals and wharves. There’s a great atmosphere in the writing. It’s gritty but be warned also gruesome. I loved the pudding shop where I could almost smell the meat and suet! But I also loathed the ratting scene (beware animal welfare supporters) but then this all really happened and the streets of this London were very far removed form the ones paved in gold of another tale.
It’s a great plot, twists and turns and many red herrings (suitable for a watery crime scene) and the characters are not over the top.
There is tenderness and tragedy revealed through not only the victims but through Arrowood and Barnett themselves as they are brought to a position to reveal their own past histories. Life was tough beyond any of our comprehension but unlike Dickens (and one must put up here Oliver, Bill Sykes and Fagin as obvious parallels) this novel is one not for sentimentality but securing escapism in a real sense of place. My only criticism would be the rather unnecessary use of Sherlock Holmes as if his mention would add to the tale. The author can stand on his own merits without the detective from Baker Street.
I stonking personal read (or should it read stinking from the alleys and grime filled river) and I think book clubs will love it especially if fans of C J Sansom. I look forward to dipping into further cases by this pair – but must line my stomach perhaps nefore reading!!
Philipa Coughlan 4/4*
Arrowood and the Thames Corpses by Mick Finlay
978-0-0083-2452-0 Harper Collins HQ ebook April 2020