An unconventional detective duo reunites to solve a series of gory murders in Dickensian London, a city where privilege dwells alongside grievous inequality.
Carter’s (The Strangler Vine, 2015) sequel to her warmly received debut delivers another historical mystery that takes a sideways look at British power in the Victorian era, this time the systematic oppression of the working class. But with less derring-do and more investigative work required this time around, her mismatched pair of “private inquiry agents” now bear closer comparison to another couple of London sleuths, Holmes and Watson. Capt. William Avery, an ex-military man–turned–country squire, is both a decent chap and the innocently upstanding foil to insubordinate, free-thinking, occasionally-opium-nibbling Jeremiah Blake. Having achieved renown for their exploits in India, the two men are reconnected in London by Viscount Allington, a philanthropic peer seeking a solution to the recent slayings of two printers in the city whose horribly disfigured bodies were left draped across their printing presses. Victorian pornography and politics—notably the Chartist movement, an anti-privilege group, keen to gain the vote and “persuade the country that the laboring classes are respectable and responsible”—underpin the plot, and Carter stresses the urgency of reform through a pointed focus on the squalor and poverty of the British metropolis, a not-unfamiliar landscape of ragged children, pickpockets, bruisers, harsh prisons, and foggy streets. Blackmail, a possible Chartist uprising, and the machinations of the newly formed police force add to the drama, yet the pace of this new tale is sluggish, often bogged down in conversations among a sizable cast of characters, some drawn from history. The brio of Avery and Blake’s first outing remains in short supply, but the bromance holds steady.
Lacking the freshness and exoticism of the earlier story, this new Avery and Blake episode offers solid yet wordier, more predictable entertainment.