Thompson, Brian - 'The Widow's Secret'
It is the late 19th century and a young female prostitute has been murdered in London. Found nearby is a cigar case with a significant crest which is then traced to Reverend Hagley, who is employed by the dissolute Lord Bolsover from Oxfordshire.
Mrs Bella Wallis is a widow who writes sensational popular fiction under the name of Henry Ellis Margam and she gets drawn into the investigation of the murder by an acquaintance, Charles Urmiston, who is now destitute but was once employed by a railway company. His wife, now dead, wasted away due to their reduced circumstances. Bolsover and Hagley were instrumental in Urmiston's dismissal.
THE WIDOW'S SECRET is full of characters: the self styled Captain Quigley and the laconic Billy Murch who do occasional deeds for Bella; the disfigured German count Vircow-Ucquart a confidant of Bolsover; the jolly Mrs Bardsoe the herbalist; Bella's young lover the petulant Marie-Claude D'Anville and Bella's luckless suitor Philip Westland.
The author, Brian Thompson, already responsible for two acclaimed autobiographies (covering his early life and adulthood) has now started a series featuring the complicated Mrs Wallis, with the second book, THE CAPTAIN'S TABLE recently published. This book is cleverly written with jokey references to a variety of well known people. It is richly descriptive – one character, Bella's Paris based publisher the dwarf-like Elias Frean is described thus "his bald head and beaked nose gave him an unwanted resemblance to the handle of a lady's umbrella – was he ever likely to forgive General Sir George Milman's supposition that he slept for the most part in the hall with walking sticks for companions".
The Bella Wallis mysteries have got off to a good start, let's see how they develop. I enjoyed this one very much.
Geoff Jones, England