A gentleman investigator in Victorian England finds himself beguiled by a headstrong woman searching for her natural father.
Johnson (A Talent for Trickery, 2015, etc) returns with the second installment in her Thief Takers series. The children of the notorious thief Will Walker are thriving, years after his death. But middle child Esther Walker-Bales still has more than a few secrets. The most pressing is that she knows Will was not really her father. She has traveled to London alone from her cottage in Derbyshire to try to track down her true father. Unfortunately, she is discovered by Sir Samuel Brass, one of a trio of gently bred private investigators who helped nab Will Walker and eventually became friends with the Walker siblings. Samuel thinks very little of Esther’s plan to search the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods on her own. Esther and her siblings have been accosted by Will’s associates in the past, and Samuel appoints himself Esther’s keeper while she’s in the city. Esther’s tart personality appeals to Samuel, and she finds that his company is a balm for her habitual loneliness. The pair traipses around London with the reader in tow, making very little progress in their investigations and fending off attacks from mysterious foes. The prose tries painfully to sound British, with too many awkward contractions (saying “I’ve a keen memory” instead of “I have a keen memory” is one of many examples), and the secondary characters are almost completely colorless. Johnson’s demonstrated skill at writing intriguing mystery stories is missing in this novel, although the main characters’ complex personal histories make the book a better read than it could have been otherwise.
All but the most devoted Johnson fans should skip this novel and wait for her next offering.