An ex-copper seeks his lover’s killer in the London underworld.
Looking back from the Christmas season, London has seen only 20 cases of murder in all of 1853. In years past, that statistic would have meant more to Charley Field: publican’s son, former prizefighter, and most recently the chief of the Detective Branch of the London constabulary. Forced into retirement, he’s now concerned with going into business for himself and trying to find a suitable Christmas gift for his wife, who’s 10 years older, considerably richer, and more landlady than wife. In fact, Charley is much happier in the arms of Rosa MacKinnon at an “introducing house.” He’s also grateful to get some professional help from Charles Dickens, who gives Charley leave to call his new business Inspector Bucket’s Private Enquiry Agency, after the police detective from Bleak House. Dickens also wants Charley to stand between him and vengeful young actress Julia Fairweather. But Field suddenly faces another, more upsetting crime when he learns that Rosa has thrown herself off a bridge in Hyde Park. In addition to mentoring a fledgling constable, solving the case of a vanishing betting shop, and tilting with Julia after her unsuccessful attempt to disrupt Dickens’ dramatic reading of A Christmas Carol, Charley investigates Rosa’s death, which seems more and more likely to have brought the annual tally of murders to 21. Charley fully justifies his nickname, the Ferret, in his attempts to track down Neck and Neckless, two shady characters implicated in Rosa’s sad end. A questionable doctor who burns to death, a séance during which Charley seems to get a message from Rosa, and a horrifying discovery about the whereabouts of Rosa’s daughter lead him through some of the grimmest parts of England but toward an unexpected ally and a satisfying conclusion.
Blackwood turns from juvenile fiction (Just-So Woman, 2006, etc.) to a new series starring a Victorian sleuth as good-hearted as he is shrewd.