Welcome to the NB Magazine stop on the blog tour for The Murder Pit by Mick Finlay!
Here’s a little info about the book:
1896: Sherlock Holmes has once again hit the headlines, solving mysteries for the cream of London society. But among the workhouses and pudding shops of the city, private detective William Arrowood is presented with far grittier, more violent, and considerably less well-paid cases.
Arrowood is in no doubt who is the better detective, and when Mr and Mrs Barclay engage him to trace their estranged daughter Birdie, he’s sure it won’t be long before he and his assistant Barnett have tracked her down.
But this seemingly simple missing person case soon turns into a murder investigation. Far from the comfort of Baker Street, Arrowood’s London is a city of unrelenting cruelty, where evil is waiting to be uncovered…
And a little about author Mick Finlay:
Mick Finlay was born in Glasgow but left as a young boy, living in Canada and then England. Before becoming an academic, he ran a market stall on Portobello Road, and he has worked as a tent-hand in a travelling circus, a butcher’s boy, a hotel porter, and in various jobs in the NHS and social services. He teaches in a university psychology department and has published research on political violence and persuasion, verbal and non-verbal communication, and disability. He now lives in Brighton with his family.
And here’s Erin’s review of The Murder Pit:
William Arrowood is a private detective of some distinction. In any other place and at any other time, he might well have been considered the world’s foremost consulting detective, but in London during the late 1890s that honour goes to one Sherlock Holmes. While Holmes basks in the limelight (after all, despite all his protestations about the folly of fame, he does manage to feature in the newspapers an awful lot) and tackles lucrative cases brought to him by the great and the good of London society, Arrowood deals with the nitty-gritty of crime in the capital, taking cases that lack glamour from clients that lack the ability to pay much for the services of a detective.
That’s not to say that his cases lack interest and his solutions lack intellectual rigour though. For instance, in Arrowood, the first book to chronicle his deductive exploits, Arrowood and his burly associate Norman Barnett (who certainly contributes more to the cracking of both cases and heads than Doctor Watson ever does) are tasked with tracking down Thierry Cousture, a chophouse worker who has been missing for some days. Cousture’s sister fears the worst, as does Arrowood when he realises that the chophouse is owned by Stanley Cream, a notorious gangster who has a score to settle with Arrowood and Barnett. It was never going to be a straightforward case, but the complexity of the investigation ends up surprising even Arrowood. Luckily, it’ll take more than Irish rebels, police corruption, political intrigue and nefarious street gangs to stop him getting his man.
In The Murder Pit, his second chronicled outing, in between visits to the pudding shop, Arrowood is employed by the Barclays to make contact with their daughter, Birdie, a young women described as being good natured, malleable and rather simple minded. It should be a relatively easy matter, since the Barclays are pretty certain where Birdie actually is, although they’re not sure why she apparently no longer wants anything to do with them. Birdie has recently married a farmer named Walter Ockwell and gone to live on his family’s pig farm outside of Catford. She was keen for the marriage to take place and everything should be going swimmingly for her, only when her parents attempt to make contact, either in person or by letter, excuses are made as to why they can’t see Birdie.
Arrowood has a nagging feeling that the Barclays are keeping something back from him, but he’s been bored of late and, perhaps even more importantly, he’s keen to tackle (and impressively solve) a newspaper-worthy case so that he can knock Sherlock Holmes from the headlines for a change. He agrees to take the case (after manoeuvring Barnett into checking that the Barclays can actually afford the fee) and the pair set off for the farm. It’s a pretty isolated place, inhabited only by various members of the Ockwell family and their two farm workers, both of whom appear to have learning difficulties, and there’s definitely something dodgy afoot there. The Ockwells won’t let them see Birdie, and they’re not keen to explain why, while the local people of Catford quickly close ranks and make their dislike of outsiders known. It appears that pinpointing the physical location of Birdie is going to be the easy bit, while gaining access to her is going to be far more troublesome.
William Arrowood, despite being a decidedly cantankerous, certainly frustrating, rather pompous and sometimes malodourous individual, is a great detective and a perfect rival for Sherlock Holmes. Where Holmes relies on unemotional logic and deductive reasoning (or pure luck, as Arrowood would put it), Arrowood approaches his cases from an emotional perspective, applying his amateur psychology to search for the motives of victims and criminals alike. In Barnett’s opinion, this reliance on emotions, his own and other people’s, is both a strength and a weakness for Arrowood, although there’s no denying that the detective perceives things that others miss. Of course, he’s also rather prone to blundering into places that should be approached with greater caution. He’s a flawed man, a man who consoles himself with food, alcohol and visits to prostitutes after having driven his wife from his life, but he’s also a man dedicated to helping those in need (and if a little fame comes his way because of it, then so much the better).
Interestingly, while Sherlock Holmes would arguably still manage to solve his cases without any input from Dr Watson, Arrowood is far more reliant on Norman Barnett, even though he often fails to appreciate and sufficiently respect his associate. Barnett is a complex character, less overtly troubled than Arrowood, but probably carrying a far greater burden in reality. His difficult and poverty-ridden childhood has caused him to project a tough exterior and he’s certainly not afraid to use his fists when required, but he’s also more than capable of puzzling out the solution to a taxing case and sussing when someone has a secret to hide. Arrowood, whether he’s willing to admit it or not, would be lost without the assistance of Barnett and in The Murder Pit he also has to rely a great deal on his sister Ettie, young Neddy, best (or only) friend Lewis and even lovelorn Detective Inspector Petleigh to solve the Barclay case. Unlike the work of the Baker Street sleuth, Arrowood’s investigations really are team efforts.
The Murder Pit is a dark and atmospheric tale with secrets, death and corruption at its heart. In addition to having crafted an intriguingly complex case for Arrowood to investigate, Mick Finlay has done a brilliant job of researching and recreating daily life in both London and the countryside during the late 1890s. The characters and the descriptions of places all ring true, and the dialogue seems pitch perfect for the time and place. He works a good deal of interesting social commentary in alongside the crime-related aspects of the story, which means that the events and circumstances Arrowood encounters, however distressing they may be, seem all too plausible. Ultimately, The Murder Pit is an intriguing and inventive mystery featuring multilayered and compelling characters (whose heads you might sometimes want to knock together). Hopefully it won’t be too long before the third Arrowood mystery is available.
Erin Britton 5*
The Murder Pit by Mick Finlay
HQ 9780008214791 pbk Jan 2019