In 1889, Lord Joel Ardglass escapes from Edinburgh’s lunatic asylum. He is known informally as Lord Bampot, which is Scottish slang for idiot.
He may have committed a murder, so inspectors Adolphus “Nine-Nails” McGray and Ian Frey search for him. There’s a clever plot and no shortage of twists and turns, but the colorful characters are what make this novel such a pleasure. Frey narrates—he's a British CID assisting the Commission for the Elucidation of Unsolved Cases Presumably Related to the Odd and Ghostly. McGray is “a scruffy Scotsman who wears ridiculous clothes” and lost the ring finger on his right hand, earning him his nickname. The two don’t always get along—Frey calls McGray “the witchcraft-nonsense expert” and a “filthy…sheep-offal-stuffed…hare-brained Scot!” The detectives chase Ardglass on an eventful train ride and survive poisoning by foxglove. Frey is covered in a foul substance from a witch’s bottle, and a “middle-aged lady with a plumed hat glared at [him] as if faced with a tray of manure.” They encounter horribly contorted poisoning victims and never touch the bottled frog McGray says is “so poisonous ye’d die from touching it with yer fingertip.” Throughout, they try to puzzle out the meaning of “marigold,” written amid a page of scribblings. “The worst thing you can do to yourselves is find it out,” Frey hears. The Scot’s colorful voice pops off the page as he gets the best lines: challenged about his investigation, McGray barks, “Doing my job, ye stinking hag.” About the upper class, “these people only marry commoners to avoid harelip.” He wants to capture Ardglass alive, but it’s a mission fraught with peril. “If ye live through this,” he tells Frey, “ye might have a future writing tacky novels.”
More fun than a plateful of haggis: a delightful read.