Cmdr. William Monk, of the Thames River Police, is faced with a series of murders among Shadwell’s Hungarian circle as sanguinary as they are ritualistic.
If Hungarian immigrants have not completely integrated into London’s larger community by 1870, their history in the city is marked more by peaceful separatism than strife. But that sense of peace is shattered by pharmacist Antal Dobokai’s discovery of the body of widowed Imrus Fodor in the warehouse he owned on Shadwell Dock—a crime whose location calls Monk (Revenge in a Cold River, 2016, etc.) to the scene. Fodor has been killed by a bayonet. His fingers have been broken, his lips severed and crammed into his mouth. Seventeen burning candles, two of them purple, decorate the murder scene. Dobokai, who clearly aspires to a leadership position among his people, offers to serve Monk as a translator and guide, but with no obvious suspect, Monk can only wait for further developments, which arrive in the form of a second corpse. Impoverished former landowner Lorand Gazda has been stabbed to death in the kitchen of his Garth Street home, his wounds, the condition of the body, and even the 17 candles obvious echoes of the earlier crime scene. More murders follow the same pattern, until a mob desperate to find a scapegoat outside their borders fastens on Dr. Herbert Fitzherbert, who worked alongside Monk’s wife, Hester Latterly, during her days as an unlicensed nurse in Crimea. Fitz, fluent in Hungarian and still dogged by nightmares of his service, honestly can’t remember whether he killed anyone, and Monk is obliged to arrest him to save his life. The ensuing trial produces no notable twists before a denouement whose last-minute arrival masks its essential lack of surprise.
Lesser work from a sometime master, less striking for its echoes of a Victorian past than for its previsions of a xenophobic future marked on both sides by distrust and fear.