Merrie Olde England is foggy, dirty, thug-and-crime-ridden. Gray’s journalist hero spends his second outing (The Fiend in Human, 2003) trying hard to keep from being murdered in it.
Edmond Whitty is a scandal-sheet hack, and he knows it. But impecunious second sons with limited earning power despite having been over-educated at Eton and Oxford dip into whatever shillings they can find. These days Whitty—witty indeed, in a mordant way, and handsome enough to be catnip to the ladies—faces more trouble than usual, even in his boozy life on the edge. A certain underworld boss named the Captain holds his gambling marker to the tune of £500. He can avoid dire physical consequences, the Captain informs him, if he’ll harness his well-known investigative talents and locate the Captain’s kidnapped niece. Whitty signs on but soon has reason to wish he’d shipped for America. In short order, he’s framed, jailed, repeatedly beaten and nearly hanged (twice). On the other hand, he meets a fictionalized version of Lewis Carroll and the delightfully Alice-like child he adores. In the end, undeserving though Whitty clearly is, he manages once again to beat the odds, nail his villain and come up smiling in Plant’s Inn, a favored watering hole for ink-stained wretches.
Teeming with Dickensian reprobates, an elegantly written, artfully mischievous romp.