McCreet, James - 'The Thieves' Labyrinth'
What a fantastic tale! A marvelous, Victorian mystery, set in London around the Thames in a time before Sherlock Holmes, with a superb set of hero detectives competing to solve the case. McCreet has produced a very finely crafted tale and filled it so full of beautiful language and vivid descriptions that you can smell the river mud and feel its oozing sludge between your toes as you read about the mudlarks and various others who make their living by scavenging in the foulness. The characters are very well developed and the good guys are extremely likeable while the bad ones have a distinctly nasty stench about them – some quite literally so.
The tale begins on Waterloo Bridge in the dark. One of the toll collectors hears a strange sound and is then shocked by the sight of a mortally wounded man coming staggering towards him. The bridge owners do not want the police involved and hire an infamous, oddly dressed, independent detective, Eldritch Batchem, to investigate. His conclusion is suicide, which is extremely baffling, but then, when another body is found and a whole ship disappears, something far more sinister is suspected by everyone, except Batchem.
Enter our heroes. Both are disgraced former policemen who are offered a clean slate and their jobs back if they can solve the case. One, Albert Newsome, is very much a loner and is frustrated at having been demoted to working with the river police after an altercation with his boss. The other, George Williamson, has associates who are far from squeaky clean: Noah Dyson, Benjamin and John Cullen. They soon set about helping him get to the bottom of the trouble and are hopeful that they will do so before Newsome!
Central to the plot is the relationship between Newsome and Williamson, who are old protagonists from long ago. But the whole story is focused around the London Customs House, on the banks of the Thames, and the role of the river in the lives of the people living in London at the time the story was set. Also, interwoven with all the mystery of the case is another one that is just as baffling. Who on earth is Eldritch Batchem?
This, as I was delighted to discover, is the third book in a series featuring Newsome, Williamson et al. It is not necessary to read the earlier books first, as this one stands on its own extremely well, but it would be nice to do so. A fourth book, THE MASKED ADVERSARY, is already available as an ebook. Good news indeed.Very highly recommended.
Amanda C M Gillies, Scotland